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Help pets achieve healthy weight in new year

Twelve-year-old Frances has struggled with her weight for most of her life, so it's up to her owners to maintain portion control.
Twelve-year-old Frances has struggled with her weight for most of her life, so it's up to her owners to maintain portion control.

JOLIET – I admit it. I came to pet ownership without any formal training.

Except for goldfish (which I overfed because they always seemed hungry), I didn’t own any pets when growing up because of severe asthma. When I did become a pet parent, the dog I inherited – Scooter, a terrier mix – had great eating habits.

Basically, we left food and water out for him. He ate when hungry and drank when thirsty. We refilled bowls when needed. He never was overweight.

So when our first stray cat, Frances, “adopted” us, we handled her feeding in the same way. Except Frances didn’t know when to quit. If her bowl was full, she ate its contents and meowed for more.

Pretty soon we had a fat cat. That was 2005, and Frances, despite our strict measuring of her food, has struggled with her weight ever since. Now that she has a heart problem, it’s even more important that she does not overeat.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2016 clinical survey found that 53.9 percent of dogs and 58.9 percent of cats were classified as clinically overweight (body condition score 4) or obese (BCS 5) by their veterinary health care professional.

Based on 2016 pet population projections provided by the American Pet Products Association, an estimated 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats are too heavy.

Just as in humans, obesity in cats and dogs comes with health consequences. For pets, these can include:

• Reduced life expectancy or diminished quality of life

• Chronic inflammation

• Kidney dysfunction

• Respiratory disorders

• Skin disorders

• Orthopedic disease

• Cancer, metabolic and endocrine disorders (including diabetes)

In fact, diabetes is becoming as much of an epidemic in pets as it is in humans. The Pet Health Network’s article, “Pets, Obesity and Diabetes: An Epidemic in 2016,” breaks down the highest incidences of canine and feline diabetes by state.

What’s a pet owner to do? The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention suggests ensuring your pet achieves – or remains – a healthy weight by asking your veterinarian the following five questions:

1) Is my pet overweight?

2) How many calories should I feed my pet each day?

3) How much weight should my pet lose in a month?

4) What kinds of exercise should my pet do?

5) Is my pet at risk because of a medical problem?

Remember, pets can’t make healthy lifestyle choices. They depend on owners to make those choices for them. And the turn of the new year is a good time to start.

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