SHERIDAN — Cat and dog owners in Sheridan might be surprised to learn their beloved pets are packing a few extra pounds. A survey released earlier this year by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reveals more than half of pets are overweight, but owners tend to not recognize the problem.
A local team of veterinary technicians has accepted the challenge to raise public awareness and help pets trim their waistlines to live healthier lives with the help of their human counterparts.
Mountain View Veterinary Hospital Certified Veterinary Technician and Purina Weight Coach Dana Kisiel has recruited 13 dogs and one cat to participate in a pilot weight loss challenge program.
“This winter was especially cold, and I noticed a lot of a animals gained weight,” Kisiel said, referring to the months of above average snowfall and subzero cold spells that often lasted longer than a week.
Kisiel teamed with the other technicians at MVVH — Amanda Gogolin and Aj Oedekoven — to start up a program for interested clients to provide encouragement and safely monitor pet weight loss via biweekly weigh-ins.
Major pet food companies have launched similar campaigns around the nation and donate low-calorie food and resources toward these community events.
The contestants had their initial weigh-in last month, and while the program will continue throughout the summer, Kisiel said she’s already seeing results.
“So far, it’s been working. Everybody has gone down a couple of pounds,” Kisiel said, indicating the true test of how well the program works will be if the weight loss trend continues and the pounds don’t creep back later.
Kisiel said her team’s goal is to have each contestant lose at least 10 percent of their total body fat.
“It’s going to be a tough competition if we have good owner compliance all through the summer,” she said.
While this year’s pet weight loss program is confined to the existing participants, Kisiel expressed interest in expanding the program to include other facilities and people from the community in the coming years.
In the meantime, she recommends owners not wait to address weight issues in their pets, and said owners can do a lot to improve the lives and health of their animal friends.
A growing trend
According to APOP statistics from a 2012 study, 52.6 percent of dogs and 57.6 percent of cats are overweight or obese in the United States, making the problem more prevalent in animals than in humans. To be classified as obese, a dog or cat must be 30 percent or more above normal weight, which about one-fifth are.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 34.9 percent of Americans are also obese, and that’s enough to mark weight issues as one of the more significant health crises of the present generation.
While cats and dogs statically surpass their owners in body mass index measurements, the problem goes largely unrecognized by owners. That’s partly because owners are blinded by love, but also because many owners don’t know what to look for to determine if a pet is overweight.
Veterinary professionals use a body condition scoring system to assess whether a dog or cat is at an appropriate weight. The system uses a scale between one and nine, with one being much too thin and nine being morbidly obese, to objectively measure whether a pet is in the red weight-wise.
While bone structure for different breeds of cats and dogs can vary, when each are at an ideal weight, their waistline is noticeable when viewed from above, ribs are easily felt but not seen and from the side, the tummy tucks upward below the rib cage.
Many owners fail to notice the extra layers of fat padding slowly emerging around their pets’ ribs or lumbar area, and dogs that are definitely in the overweight category might still have a hint of a waistline. Like with people, unnoticed extra pounds can cause a host of medical conditions.
“If your dog or cat is five to 10 pounds overweight, they’ll likely live two years less than they should for their breed standard,” Kisiel said, referring to data that correlates extra weight with joint problems, diabetes, thyroid and other weight-dependent diseases.
“If you keep them lean, you get those two years back, but you’ll also avoid other medical issues,” she said.
The love/food paradox
Even if owners correctly identify their fur ball friend as overweight, it’s not an easy problem to address, even for the most ambitious of pet owners. Many human-pet relationships are built upon a solid foundation of using food for bonding, entertainment and even negotiation.
Furthermore, pet owners must overcome obstacles including time, energy, and even guilt, about dieting their pets. Kisiel said she sees other owners struggle with nutritional literacy for their pets and are apt to misinterpret labels.
“Every pet food, on the back or side panel, tells you the daily recommendation to feed a pet. A lot of people take it as what they should feed at each meal,” Kisiel said.
Kisiel said it’s OK for pets to start their diets slowly in order to avoid an extreme disruption in a pet’s daily routine.
“What we started doing for dogs was taking a quarter cup of food they’re normally fed and replaced it with canned green beans,” Kisiel said, adding that the green beans act as a filler, as could other vegetables or canned food, which is mostly water.
Kisiel also said she’s recommending pet owners that are serious about helping their pet lose weight stick to a twice-a-day feeding schedule.
“It’s actually a human-minded thing that you have to feed your animals three times a day,” she said. “The two-a-day feeding is better for the pets’ overall health because they’re better able to digest and absorb nutrients.”
For clients who insist their pets need treats every few hours, Kisiel emphasized the employment of low-calorie treat choices, like apples or carrots. She said some commercially available pet treats, especially those presented as dog-friendly versions of bacon or pepperoni, contain the caloric content of an entire extra meal to a pet.
In addition to a calculated diet overhaul, which includes conscientious nutrition and portion control, Kisiel is encouraging clients to recommit to helping their pets get exercise. Once or twice daily walks and play sessions can also fill in for a relational aspect that was once provided by feeding. While options for dog exercise are commonly known, Kisiel also provides new ideas for cat owners that struggle with classic feline indifference.
Kisiel said helping heavy pets get back down to a healthy weight should be a slow process, and owners that set out with determination to reform their pets lives should be conscientious not to starve or overexercise their animals. She also said some underlying medical conditions might preclude weight loss success, and owners who make an earnest attempt at slow weight loss with their pets and are unsuccessful should consult a veterinarian.
In addition to veterinary professionals in the community that are happy to offer dietary guidance, there are several online resources for owners who have questions about pet weight issues, such as www.petobesityprevention.org.