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Pet Obesity: A Growing Trend

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As obesity has risen over the years, the waistlines of our pets have unfortunately followed that trend as well. While we are in charge of our own journey to a healthy lifestyle, our pets don’t have that choice. We are in charge of what and how often they eat, along with what types of exercise they get and how often.

According to this study in The Wall Street Journal, the main culprit of overweight pets are “owners who routinely overfeed pets, don't exercise them enough and are unaware of the severe, and costly, health problems caused by excess weight. Common woes include diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, high blood pressure and cancer.” Wait...aren't those some of the same problems that we face due to excess weight?

If you have visited my SparkPage, you may have noticed that I am an animal lover. I currently have 3 cats and a 10 month old puppy. Over time and even more recently I have seen some very overweight pets, even right here in my neighborhood. While I may not be the perfect pet parent, I am always doing what I can to make sure that none of my fur-babies become a statistic of having any complications of being overweight.

I have always been careful about how much I feed my cats, especially since they don’t tend to get that much exercise. However, I do try to play with them and get them to be active each day. For cats, especially those that are indoors only, it can be difficult to get them to play. Fortunately for my cats, they each have their favorite toys that I can get them to play with, and they love to run around and chase each other up and down the stairs. Some days though, they are definitely lazy and not into playing, but I still try to get them to engage in play time.

With Zoe, my now 10 month old puppy, I make sure she gets plenty of exercise and I limit her food and treats to what is recommended by her veterinarian. I also take her to the veterinarian’s office for monthly weigh-ins just to be sure she is still at a healthy weight. As a Labrador retriever, she is very food-driven, and if it were up to her, she would eat all day, every day. She is very active, but she definitely wouldn’t be opposed to eating more if she were given the opportunity. Zoe actually helps me get moving some days, because she needs to be walked, even if I don't feel like it. So it works both ways for the two of us - we both get some exercise at the same time.

If you're unsure of how much to feed your pet, check with your veterinarian. They can give you a good guideline, especially since they will know your pet’s health history, including their weight and size. There are numerous brands of food and treats out there, and you may have noticed recently that there has been a lot of advertising about what is in your pet’s food. A lot of pet food out there is made of fillers, which can mean that you give your pet more food, which means more calories, but it will be less filling for them and they will still be hungry. Like us, this can lead to overfeeding and obesity. Just as you have learned here on the dailySpark and SparkPeople, check the ingredients list. This can help you decide on what is a better choice of food and/or treat for your pet. Also, be aware that some of your pets’ treats contain sugar, and quite a few contain by-products of some kind, even the brands that you may think are good for your pet. Yes, you read that right. Sugar is not only added in our food, but it is in our pets’ food/treats too.

Being overweight as a dog or a cat can be very hard on their body, just as it is for us humans. However, even just one extra pound to a cat or dog can be even more strenuous to their body and joints than it is for us because of their size. Unlike us though, they don’t have a way to control their circumstances. We are able to make our own decisions on creating healthy habits for a healthy lifestyle, but our pets don’t get that option. They are at the mercy of our decisions, which is why it is important to keep them in mind too, as you learn about living a healthy lifestyle and create new, healthier habits for yourself. Making small changes for our pets by feeding them properly and making sure they get the necessary exercise can allow them to live a long, happy and healthy life with you.

Let’s change this trend of obesity in pets, just as we are changing it for humans. Let’s Spread the Spark to our fur-babies and give them a chance at living a healthy lifestyle too!

What do you do to help your pet have a healthy lifestyle? What is your pet’s favorite exercise/activity? Do you have any tips to offer other pet parents for helping their pets live a healthy lifestyle?

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I have 2 dogs, one is a hound and a speed demon, the other is a yellow lab retriever. I take them both for walks at least 4x a week and they go swimming when the weather permits. My cat is 13 , I just have to play with her for 15 minutes and she's all wired up and runs around the house at night. I do not give my dog people food. There are so many things they can't eat that ppl are not aware of. Look it up! You could be hurting your best friend! Love isn't about feeding your animal, loving your pet is taking care of it, giving it the best quality of a life they can have and in return you get a best friend like no other. I love my pets!!! They are a part of my family! Report
We have 2 cats, one of which is 19 lbs and is diabetic. It is very costly to take care of a sick animal, and moreso when you decide to manage his disease. On average, we spend $200/month on veterinary supplies, including insulin, needles, and prescription diabetic food. It's a struggle to engage in playtime with him and we strive to get him as active as possible. His diabetes is currently under control and it is our hope that he lives a useful, happy life. Report
I have one cat and she is about a year and a half old. Even though she is an indoor cat, she likes to play, so I work on spending time with her playing every day. I give her treats, but not everyday. I look for food and treats that have a high protein and moisture content. I actually am trying to get my cat to eat a little bit more. Report
I really appreciate your post. When I first got my cat she was almost 15 pounds. I was really worried about what the extra weight would do to her health. It takes a lot of extra work to give her 'meal times' and not leave food out to manage her weight but now she's a much healthier 10 1/2 pounds after a few years of getting her diet back on track! Report
I have 5 little dogs so I now take them up and down the street on a leash and I think that walking helps to stimulate them to release,but I do 3 first then 2 and I get in a few extra steps myself in the AM and then in the PM.I love getting out in nippy air and so does all 5 dogs. Report
I have 4 dogs and 3 of them have always been at healthy weights. One is a whippet mix that I doubt could get fat if I tried. My fourth dog is a black lab. She had a litter of 11 pups when she was two and was never able to lose the baby weight. Lol. She was over a 100 lbs when I first started losing weight five years ago. Over the course of two years, I lost 200 lbs and she dropped 30-40 lbs! She walked with me or my husband every day. She is now 10 years old and at a healthy weight for her breed. The only problem is she now has congenital hip problems that have made it hard for her to walk. I play fetch with her in yard twice a day just to keep her moving. I want to set up a pool thing for her because she loves the water and I figure that would be less painful on her hips.

I also changed the food that I feed all of our dogs. We switched to a healthier brand of food that uses only real ingredients and no by products. Yes, it is more expensive but it's cheaper in the long run to have healthier dogs.

Another issue that has been a problem is that we live where we work so there is a lot of traffic in and out. People that come over a lot like to bring treats for the dogs. I've gotten most of them to stop but there are a few that the dogs won't let leave until they get something. For those people, I've give a supply of healthier treats and restock theirs as needed. It was either that or have the UPS guy stuck in our driveway because the dogs won't move out of his path until they their treats. Report
We have a 3 year old cat named Buster, who doesn't even care about food! He eats twice a day, and usually leaves food. He is 13 pounds, but he is not fat, just a big cat. We play with him, he chases balls and plays a lot. I also take him out for walks around the house, on a leash, in his harness. He loves it! Report
My dog Ginger is a 12-yo rescue, and she has very few teeth left. However, I keep her at a trim 18 lbs (she is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a bit on the larger side of the breed standard) and she follows me around the house, up and down the stairs lots of times, just like a spry puppy! She also did a 2.5 mile walk the other day, though I don't walk her regularly (it bothers her hips too much), and she was bouncing down the sidewalk, smelling all the scents on the grass, and racing ahead on her leash like she was 10 years younger! She hates it when I go for my walk without her! I feed her 1/4 c. of dry food 2x a day and a heaping tablespoon of wet food mixed in. Once a week, when I'm making salad for my lunches, I give her one small bite each of green, red, and yellow bell pepper, but her favorite people foods are popcorn and cucumbers. I wouldn't consider giving her any processed people foods, though she does love cheese (bleu cheese is her favorite) and fish, and begs whenever we have those around. I think the key is, just like us humans, to give in moderation, only as an occasional treat. Report
we feed our cat a special cat food for indoor cats and do not use a automatic feeder or leave his food out all day either. I do not purchase him treats or any other empty fillers. As long as I continue doing this, the vet said he will be a healthy full grown cat. Report
I once heard a nutrition expert speak and she showed a slide as part of her presentation that said "If your dog is too fat, YOU are not getting enough exercise!" I don't have a dog, but we do have a cat. I think his weight is fairly normal, but I could be wrong. Some days he is active and other days he is pretty lazy. Report
I walk my dog three times per day - weather permitting. She ends up walking 3.6 miles per day. We also play fetch for at least 30 mins indoors everyday. She loves to chase the racquetball down our foyer. She is in awesome shape - a 12 pound boston terrier. Shear muscle. Report
My kitty was a pound overweight when I took him into the vet, which surprised me because he looks pretty skinny to me! I reduced the amount of food he was getting daily to a set amount (3/4 cup a day) and he had lost the pound a year later.

As for exercise, I have an extremely active cat, he is constantly chasing something or other up and down the house, especially at night when we are trying to sleep! He's especially fond of hair scrunchies, and also loves to leap onto windowsills, scramble across the house, and leap to another window sill. He pretty much does my job for me. Report
I had the same experience as MSMANDY205. One of my cats ballooned up to 20 pounds. Restricting her portions left her hungry but still overweight. After doing the research, I stopped feeding her dry food and she now weighs 13 pounds (which is appropriate for her size). My research also convinced me to stop feeding dry food (corn meal seems to be the biggest culprit) to all of my cats. My eldest is about to turn 17 with no kidney problems yet! She has been on canned food her entire life because of food sensitivities.

One interesting fact I learned was that the insulin response in cats is triggered by protein rather than by carbs. Report
After a lifetime of having cats, I had one cat who did not overeat but was overweight. In Feb my vet said that research has found that occasionally a cat who is feed a totally dry food diet will react to the high amount of carbohydrates in the dry food and gain weight, even if the quantity of food is within recommended guidelines. The vet insisted that I switch my cat to a totally canned diet or the cat would likely get diabetes. (He said a mixed diet wouldn't work for this cat.) It's difficult to get complete nutrition in some canned food but Wellness food is great. (Yes it costs but I didn't see a choice.) I did transition to the canned food over a few weeks, now it is all canned, and he has shed the pounds. You can search for information about this online. Report
Had 5 cats and 3 dogs (not all at the same time). We just left the food out so they could help themselves whenever they were hungry. They would also get scraps of supper at the end of the day (2 dogs and 3 cats eating little scraps at the end if there was any left). Most of the time they were at a healthy weight. It does depend on the brand name of food. Get the cheap stuff, they'll be eating more, be chubby, there are more fillers in the cheap stuff (no wonder why it was cheap). Pay a few bucks more, they ate less, food lasted longer, they lost the bit of chubbiness.

Also, give the animals the crunchy kind, it's better for the teeth. Took one of the dogs to a new vet, she took a guess of how old Puffin was, she thought Puffin was 8-11 years old, based on the teeth. She was 15. All because she mostly ate crunchy, which the vet recommended is better for the teeth. Genitivitis, etc. They get the same problems as humans for teeth issues. She believed that the crunchy stuff is good to have on a regular basis or the snacks that help prevent that kind of thing (assuming the dog likes those kinds of treats, which Puffin didn't like, but our last dog, Murphy, could gobble them all up). Report
I keep my chihuahuas at a healthy weight. I have 4, 2 are little "piggies", 2 aren't "into" food as much. One was a rescue and was too thin for the first 4 yrs. She "took out" her issues (stress, unhappy if I had to leave for some reason, etc.) on her food. She has progressed this past yr. to being pretty much healed and no longer leaves her food untouched so she is staying at a healthy weight. One of my "piggies" was a bit overweight (I found I had to feed them so little it feels like I'm starving them but my vet recommended that amount and it is apparently correct, they stay at a perfect weight). At the time she needed to lose I not only cut back on her food a bit, but also took her on the treadmill with me at a very slow rate. She is a lazy girl too. We had her weight back to proper in 2 weeks. She wasn't that far overweight. But my vet was very pleased and surprised. Now if only I had someone doling out my food and putting me on a leash for my walk! Hahaha! Report
My Tepje eats all day. He takes a little bite and moves on doing what loves best (sleeping, watching the birds, taking care of invading toms by ambushing them from behind his catflap) He never eats more then he needs. How he does it ... I'm Clueless! If I give a little snack like heart or tuna he will just eat less from his kibble. He is in perfect shape. The vet always ask how I do it. I always anwser that I wished I could do it: regulating my food intake so perfect as he does. Report
My Yorkie is a five pound ball of energy. She chases lizards with the speed of a greyhound after a rabbit! She eats two small meals a day and is in great shape! Report
I don't feed my dog, too much "people food", and every day, she goes out twice, for an hour each time, and just runs like the wind. She loves it. She is only 3 years old, we think, she is a rescue dog. Report
I refuse to have overweight dogs! I feed them a diet of raw meat and veggies. They also get to share my tofu, cottage cheese and greek yogurt on occasion. I make their doggie treats myself, a great recipe of whole wheat flour, bananas, honey and peanut butter.

I guess my dogs eat better than most Americans. Can you tell I don't have children? ;) Report
Brightangel - What is really sick is overfeeding an animal to the point where it's health is endangered. Not only that, but the vet bills could be astronomical, just as a human's medical bills could be. Many diseases can be prevented just by living a healthy lifestyle - eating healthy and sufficient exercise. That goes for adults, children, and pets.

Keeping your pet healthy is a pet owner's responsibility. Report
We sometimes anthromorphize our pets behavior, and sometimes we are completely wrong.

However, there is one thing that pets and little children both have in common. THEY try to teach us to behave the way they want us to behave.

I'm sure that many of you have had a child get it's way by throwing temper tantrums, pouting, etc.

Does your cat cry and yowl when she thinks she has been short-changed when fed - even though you knows the's had what's appropriate for her? Isn't it hard not to give in just to have her shut up?

Does your puppy whine and drop you hints of his displeasure when he feels you have shorted him on his nutrition? Isn't it hard not to be upset and give in?

First, check with your vet to make sure your pet is not suffering from any disease or intestinal problem. If (s)he gets a clean bill of health, changing their behavior is really easy. Just as you can change a childs errant behavior by breaking his/her concentration, do the same for your pet.

The best thing I have found is to play with them and get them to play chase. You may have to use a ball or a little bit of catnip to initially get their attention - or even a laser pointer for cats, but the more often you are able to break their concentration on food, the less they will use their behavior to drive you crazy.

You'll be happier and they'll be far more healthy, AND, the occasional treat will be a stronger award for good behavior. Report
I know this is a really serious subject but wow! That cat is so cute. Sorry. Report
Like the author, my dog gets me moving sometimes because she needs exercise. She has seizures, and daily exercise and medication help keep them in check. Win, win! Report
Don't have a pet right now; can't afford it. But, when we had our kitties, we played with them a lot, so they were never overweight. Play time with your pets is important for both parties: pets enjoy the activity and attention, and play lowers a person's blood pressure (and stress levels) and raises your pleasure levels. So play with your pets, often and long.
I accept I have to diet my whole life..and call it a "healthy lifestyle", but to make my cat do it along with me is just sick. Report
a few years ago one of my client's fell and broke her leg I took her dog in while she was recovering the dog was more than 20 lbs over weight (45lbs) for 13 inch beagle while my client did not make it, I still have the dog still working on her weight loss but have her down to 30 lbs she is pretty old 14 had her to the vet the other day and was proud of me for the weight that I have gotten off her Report
I walk with my dog. We started walking together in February of 2009 when she was 11. We started slowly, about a half hour around the neighborhood, gradually increasing our distance. In 6 months she lost 9 1/2 pounds, and has kept it off since then. She is now solid muscle and loves our walks. My original goal was 3 ties a week, but now we usually get in 6 days together. Everytime I put on shoes, she looks hopeful, and I feel guilty if I have to tell her 'not today.' She has a raincoat (yes, we have walked in the rain) and some winter coats (she gets one on if it is below 30 degrees) and knows every house that a dog lives in. It's a great bonding time for us Report
My dog is anorexic, so weight is not a problem for him. He gets a long hike up the mountain every morning and could care less about food. My cat, on the other hand, is a poster child for obesity. The vet says we are feeding him a very reasonable number of calories (two different vets have said the calorie numbers are almost too little), but he has intestinal problems (he's a manx and they often do) and no matter how low calorie his diet and how much exercise he gets, his weight (17 lbs) never goes down. So, I guess just like with people, we can't be too quick to make a judgement about obese pets any more than we should about obese people. Report
We have 3 Shih Tzu's ranging in age from 12 years to 3 years. The boys have always been much larger than our female but all love to eat. The youngest, Mulligan, is the one with food allergies. Because of this I have switched all of them to grain free dog food. Mulligan's red skin, hot spots and constant licking diminished within weeks. The downside is that this food seems to contain more calories. I have reduced the amount given to each dog and am beginning to see some results. Maybe I should but them on a "weight tracker" and we can see their progress! There are also grain free treats to go along with the grain free food. If you are considering switching to a grain free food, do it gradually and buy at a local pet store. Buying from the vet is just too expensive. Report
I read that cats are more apt to get cancer because they eat the same food over and over and over, so if you want to keep your cat healthy, feed it fresh meat or buy the organic cat food like Newman's Own, etc. My darling, "Mr. Wilkes" passed away in May at age 16 & I gave him canned cat food like "Fancy Feast" and he loved raw chicken. He'd eat spaghetti if he could get it, which we always thought strange. He had the soul of a Warrior. Report
We have two cat companions, one is fat because he wants to eat if he sees the other being fed, even though he isn't hungry. The other is naturally slim. They get on so well and usually have a daily wrestle and chase through the house. The fat boy loves to play with his cat fishing rod, he will run madly after it through the house and jump to get the end, then play tug of war with the line. When he succeeds in getting the line he takes me for a walk, and guess where we end up?
Yes, his food bowl! He is a lovely old bloke, with a great sense of humor and play, even at 13 years of age. Report
I have 3 cats. They each get 1/2 a cup of dry kibble a day, no treats or people food. I play with them most days and they chase each other and wrestle and are pretty active. One is 18 pounds, one 17, one 16. They don't really look fat. They are just all big boys- all really long and tall. I am often told the 18 pounder is the biggest cat people have ever seen- just in terms of height and length. Report
When I moved to CA, my bf's father had the fattest cat I have ever seen. Sam weighs in at 27 pounds. The vet said he IS a big boy, but should weigh around 15-17 pounds probably.

We eventually got to the point where we took away his trough feeding (one of my cats has diabetes) and finally got him used to eating a lesser amount. He still has yet to lose weight. We also found out that his father fed him cookies--any and all kinds. He also fed him a lot of his left overs. Now we are paying for it in medical care because he is too fat to keep himself clean, he cannot fit into a regular size litter box, and when he tries to sleep, he wheezes and you can hear him breathing and trying to comfortable across the room. It is so sad =( Report
I have a 7-year old Bombay cat named Sophia. I help her stay trim by feeding her 1/4 c. of veterinarian-recommended indoor formula cat food 2x a day. She rarely gets treats, and if she does, it's the dregs of my milk from my morning cereal or a small bite of cooked chicken. Her favorite activity is laying in the sun, or on the bed blankets. She also likes to make "Cat Confetti" of any papers lying within her reach. She shreds them. Report
I think the pets are having the same problems that we have. We eat too many carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates especially and it's making us fat. It's making our pets fat, too. Cats, for example, are primarily carnivores, which means that they should not be eating a bunch of corn and rice. But that's exactly what's in a lot of cat foods like Friskies. There's no wonder there's such a rise in obesity and diabetes if we're feeding the animals like we're feeding ourselves - not enough nutrient dense food and too much nutrient poor food like rice. I feed my two indoor cats a decent quality dry food with few fillers (which they're free to graze on all day) and supplement it with good quality wet food. I've tried to transition them to the grain free EVO food and other grain free brands, but I have one finicky cat who refuses to eat any of them. If you have an overweight pet, I'd suggest switching them to a high protein, low carb, grain free food. Neither of my cats at this time have any sort of weight problem. The finicky cat actually has had himself on what I call a jogging regimen for the eight years he's been with me. He runs back and forth through my apartment over and over again, jumping up and down off of the things that get in his way. The younger one now follows him . They're completely indoor and manage to stay active by themselves - of course I do play with them sometimes. Report
sweetarlo, i would definitely have your pet's thyroid checked. my cat's (RIP Kitty) thyroid was outta wack for a short time, and therefore DH and i had her on thyroid meds. she was also diabetic so she was off and on insulin for the last 5 yrs of her life. we fed her iams hairball indoor weight loss formula, and up until the last 2 weeks of her life, she was the weight she was supposed to be. as far as my 2 dogs, they get one "recommended" serving the whole day. they get fed in the morning and evening. i give them more treats than i should, but DH and i also walk them 2 times a day most days and Ziggy plays tug with us. our 2 dogs play with each other, so they aren't fat. Report
I feed my cat a raw meat and bones diet. Report
Has anyone read the ingredients on the back of most cat food? It is primarily corn. Isn't corn the grain fed to get cows and other critters fat? My cat goes outside and is extremely active and he's fat and less then two years old. I used to leave my cats food out for them to graze on whenever in the 80's and never had a fat cat.

Something is wrong with the food today in my opinion. Report
My Max (St. Bernard) walks with mom daily. He enjoys it and he makes Mom feel safe. Then there is Ires lets say she needs a cat tread mill.

I can control what I feed Gypsy (my cat) but I can't control how many mice (etc.) that she eats. Or live ones that she lets loose in the house they I have to catch. Report
My roommate and I each have a cat - mine is very healthy and active...while hers looks like the Tabby in the picture. I believe in prevention and thus spend ample time at the pet store, reading every ingredient in my cats food, making sure he is getting the very best nutrition. My roommate buys whatever is on sale at Ralph's. Coincidence? I think not.
I was seriously considering making a spark page for my dog. She's been slowly gaining weight and my puppy drives me crazy if I don't walk her, so we're both doing better. I had to get a bicycle to be able to get my dogs the work out they need. Winter is going to be hard as we get a lot of snow here, but I have a laser pointer that makes for great running and playing time. We run a few miles a day and then come home and nap and then we have afternoon play time. Tail chasing, carpet moving and stool hurdles are some of our puppy's favorite "games." The senior dog, we taught how to play tug of war with the puppy and that usually turns into a wrestling match so we're getting our strength training in as well. I have my puppy on Neutro for large puppies and our senior dog is on Diamond Light for less active dogs, until her weight is down, then the vet wants her on the Nutro senior large dog food. Report
I have a friend whose cat weighs twice what my dog weighs, and he is not a tiny dog. That cat just looks miserable whenever I go visit, and his temperament is kind of nasty. My little dog gets treats for training purposes, but I cut back on the amount of kibble he gets to make it all balance out. I think overfeeding, and under exercising pets is irresponsible. Report
This is a great , informative article....especially the " Cat Food" portion of educating people
..on what it actually contains

Thankyou so much Report
We lost our sweet kitty Nehemiah to diabetes less than a month ago. According to our vet there is a huge rise in kidney issues and diabetes in cats. Watching what and how much your animal eats is the first place to start. We did our best with our cat and managed to keep him around and healthy for almost 2 years after his diagnosis. While I was happy to give him twice daily shots and pills, it's not for everyone, it requires a time commitment and makes it difficult to take trips. We were fortunate that our neighbors were able to give him the medical attention he required so we could get away on ocassions. This week we are paying that forward by watching another friend's cat who is diabetic. Report
I have 4 pets, only one of which is overweight, my 13-y.o. cat Sweet. She's been too heavy most of her adult life, but I can't get her to lose weight. She is totally sedentary and has no interest in playing, and we only feed her about 2/3 of the recommended serving for weight loss of her diet food. Maybe she has thyroid issues. Any suggestions? Report
I also have a lab and I know he'd be enormous if I allowed him to be! But I want him around as long as possible and especially because of labs' problems with hip dysplasia, I make sure to keep him trim. I love him too much to let him be overweight - now I'm working on loving myself as much! Report
We lost our dog Louie to cancer in July. We are watching our new rescue dog Ginger's diet of food and teats very carefully. Ginger loves going for walks. That is great motivation for me. Report
I have told each of my dogs as I have adopted him that I am the only person allowed to have weight issues in this house. So far each of my Bichons has reached 11+ years (one, with chronic auto-immune issues reached nearly 16). Since all were rescues, I had no part in their puppy-hoods, but their adult lives were--and are!--healthy and I'm very proud of that. Now...if only I could guarantee the same for myself... Report
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