There is a growing epidemic in today’s companion animal world. This problem is quite serious and harmful to our beloved furry friends. It is an escalating issue and its impact is severe. Long term consequences of obesity result in: arthritis, torn cruciate ligaments, hypertension, hypothyroidism, impaired respiration, heart disease, poor gastrointestinal health, chronic renal disease, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, hepatitis, cancer, diabetes – just to name a few.

Companion animal obesity is alarmingly prevalent in today’s society. Aside from its serious side effects, obesity can be fatal. Companion animal obesity does not happen overnight. It takes years to create. However, obesity is easily reversible and even preventable altogether. With so much education on the subject, why is companion animal obesity so common?

Perhaps most commonly, many humans mistake feeding for love. Because our furry friends find feeding time to be so exciting, we often associate their happiness with food. By over-feeding our animal friends, we are not helping them. In fact we are often shortening their lives and time with us! Even more hazardous to their health, humans will feed animals ‘people’ food. While some ‘people’ food is beneficial to animals such as whole meats and steamed veggies, most table foods cause serious health problems for companion animals. The digestive systems of cats and dogs (and parrots, horses and hamsters) are not wired for all of the fatty, saturated, sugary, starchy foods that many humans consume. These rich ingredients cause many painful organ imbalances such as pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney or liver failure, UTI’s, bladder crystals, several types of cancer and more. Though it may take some discipline on our part, dissociating food and love is the best way to keep our beloved furry ones healthy!

One key factor in the rise of obesity is carbohydrates in the diet. Genetically, cats and dogs mainly subsisted on meats. By adding grains to the diet, marketing companies have found marketable filler, allowing them to cheap out on the main staples of the companion animal diet. Most of the carbohydrates found in cat and dog food are full of sugars and starches which not only slow the metabolism but also impair digestion. Consequently, weight gain is almost inevitable. Of primary significance to carbohydrate-infuse foods is that felines are physiologically unable to digest grains. Cats lack the digestive enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of grains (found in almost all carbohydrates). When cats eat grains, the carbohydrates metabolize into sugars. With excess exposure to grains in food (causing excess sugar levels in the blood), feline diabetes runs rampant. Further, there are innumerable documented cases of the link between carbohydrates in the diet and yeast overgrowth in dogs and cats (candida overgrowth). It is our role in our animal’s lives to read labels and make sure that we understand what sugary, starchy carbohydrates are and how they can harm our animals.

What many companion animal caregivers fail to acknowledge is that companion animals need sufficient exercise to burn calories. In this respect (and many others) humans and animals are the same. In order to maintain a healthy body weight, we must balance the calories we eat with the calories we burn through daily activity. Humans often disregard their cat or dog’s need for exercise. Humans often excuse this by telling themselves they are “too busy” to adequately walk their dogs or play with their cats. They often feel that the yard is sufficient exercise for the dog and that the cat walks around their home enough to burn the calories necessary for healthy weight maintenance. Unless these animals are reaching a cardiovascular endurance that is equivalent to a ‘light sweat’ of a human’s cardiovascular routine, they are likely not burning the calories needed to stay healthy. In many cases, finding suitable exercise for cats and some dogs can be challenging. However with research and a little bit of creativity, creating a healthy exercise regimen for our companion animal friends will ensure that they do not fall into the trap of obesity. They will live longer and have a healthy quality of life.

Sadly, almost all processed (store bought) cat and dog food is full of preservatives, non-food items and carcinogens. These frighteningly harmful ingredients cause an alarmingly high rate of inflammation and obesity within our animal friends’ bodies. Preservatives such as corn gluten are exceedingly common in many veterinary recommended foods. This is to say that even professionals are suggesting that foods whose first several ingredients are harmful to an animal in many ways (chronic inflammation, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease to name a few). Frighteningly, many consumers fall prey to accepting what veterinarians and marketing companies claim is “healthy’ instead of conducting their own research. This failure to read and research labels is a very real cause of obesity. By making time to research exactly what it is you’re feeding your animal friend, you might be very shocked at what is being passed off as “food” in the animal community. Take the time to get to know the species appropriate diet that is best suited to your companion.

Most readily available to all companion animal caregivers is portion control. Many caregivers ‘free feed’ their cats and dogs. This means that they leave food out all day for their animal to eat whenever they so choose. This behavior is often detrimental to their animal’s health. Animals who are home alone all day will tend to ‘boredom eat’. Many humans suffer from boredom eating as well. If animals have no other task to complete throughout their day, they will choose to eat just for something to do. By controlling the amount of food they have access to, we can monitor their weight more closely. Many objections to this idea come into play in homes where humans work long hours and animals are unable to go for so long without food. This is correct. Ideally, animals should be fed small meals every four hours (as should humans). If humans are out for prolonged time periods, leaving food ‘games’ for their animals can help with portion control. One such game is the feeding puzzle wherein dogs must work though a puzzle to find their food. By suggesting that animals work for their food, we are creating both a task for our animals as well as a way for them to be nourished. Additionally, animals who have been undernourished prior to coming into your home will tend to wolf down every ounce of food as soon as it’s placed in front of them. Free-feeding poses a serious threat to those previously undernourished cats and dogs because they can eat far too much in one sitting and become quite ill. By monitoring your feeding portions, you will be ensuring a healthier body weight for your animal friends!

It is crucial to put ourselves in the bodies and minds of our animal friends. How would we feel if we were being fed improperly and could not do anything to remedy it? Animals are unable to shop for themselves and in many cases are unable to voice how uncomfortable nutrient-poor food makes them feel. Many animals love table food so much that they wouldn’t object if they could- until they fell into chronic pain or disease. It is our role as companion animal caregivers to make healthy choices on their behalf.




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