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Pet Obesity

Fat cats -- and fat dogs are a serious concern to Minnesota veterinarians.

Like humans, obesity endangers their health; and, like humans, the more overweight they are, the tougher their battle of the bulges will be. The problem and the solutions are in the hands of the pet owners.

The first step is to recognize that the pet has a weight problem. Gross overweight is obvious. The animal looks fat an has no definition to his ribcage or haunches. Weight determine less obvious obesity. A veterinarian sets the ideal weight for an animal based on age and structure. He weighs the animal at each visit and reports if it is overweight. Owners also should weigh and chart changes for their pets on a regular routine.

Even though scales do not lie and looks do not deceive, some owners are reluctant to admit their pet is too plump. It pleases them to see the pets enjoy food and eat voraciously. Pet food manufacturers take advantage of the situation and sell owners on the taste and texture appeal of their products. The more tempting the food, the more the animal will eat.

Overeating at mealtime is compounded by nibbling between meals. Animals cannot resist begging if they are around food that is being prepared or served. Few owners can resist feeding them. The best solution is to shut the animal out of food preparation and eating areas at mealtime.

Once an owner recognizes that his pet is overweight, he should decide how he is going to tackle the problem. The goal is to feed the dog or cat fewer calories than it will use. A number of diet pet foods are available. They are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, fat and protein. A veterinarian can provide valuable assistance in calculating caloric needs and mapping a diet plan.

Exercise also is important for general health as well as weight loss and control. A sedentary animal burns few calories. For dogs, regular walks provide good exercise. Cats can be encouraged to play.

Once ideal weight is achieved, owners should continue to monitor calorie intake, weight and exercise to maintain that weight. The alternative to weight loss and control is problems with joints and locomotion, respiratory difficulties, congestive heart failure, difficulty whelping and lower resistance to disease including susceptibility to diabetes and other problems of accessory organs (i.e., kidney, liver and pancreas).

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