Pet Parade: Holiday weight gain affects pets too

By AL SWANSON, United Press International  |  Dec. 19, 2010 at 5:30 AM
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A recent trip to the vet confirmed what we had suspected -- both of our dogs are getting fat.

The little beasties are not obese or anything like that but they both are overweight, although the taller one looks to be in perfect shape.

The dogs, a male and a female terrier, each clocked in at 26 pounds, slightly more than their ideal weight of 18 to 22 pounds. But a couple of pounds is a lot as a percentage of body mass for a small dog.

We had suspected the younger dog, a 2-year-old Welsh terrier, was larding up but it didn't become apparent until we had the dogs groomed for Thanksgiving. Sure enough she was kind of rolly-poly below the chest.

Now these dogs eat a lot of dog treats, but that's mainly because we trained them with techniques that reward good behavior. Maybe a whack with a rolled up newspaper would have been as effective but we took the positive reinforcement route and have been rewarded with two well-behaved dogs.

The 2-year-old still acts like a pup and the 8-year-old is as playful as one, especially when treats are in the offing.

We only feed the dogs once a day -- in the evening. I once read you shouldn't feed dogs in the morning because they'll just lie around and sleep all day. So we feed them in the evening -- after they've lain around and slept all day.

Both are self-feeders, we can fill up their bowls and they eat what they want and snack on the rest. I'm pretty sure it's the snacks that are the cause of the weight gain, so it looks like smaller daily rations and fewer table scraps will be in order in 2011.

Overweight pets are susceptible to the same chronic, life-shortening illnesses as humans: heart and kidney disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

We would never feed them burgers, doughnuts or candy, although I once had a dog that was crazy about stuffed pizza.

Terriers, golden retrievers, Keeshonds, German shepherds, poodles, schnauzers, Bassett hounds and miniature breeds are predisposed to canine diabetes, South Texas Veterinary Specialists veterinarian Ronald Walton, told KENS-TV, San Antonio.

"The warning signs of a diabetic dog is a loss of weight, frequent, sometimes uncontrollable urination, and an increase in appetite and thirst." Animal diabetes can require either pills or a daily insulin shot.

Just like human diabetics, their blood sugar should be tested at least twice a day. Diabetes is the No. 1 health reason for pet euthanasia.

The Association for Pet Obesity estimates more than half of all U.S. pets are overweight or obese.

The prescription is simple -- even during the holiday season -- restrict calories by feeding a little bit less each day and step up the exercise until you can see the weight coming off. Sound familiar? The same advice goes for pet owners.

And that also goes for fad diets.

Some people blame allergies to grains like rice for pet digestive problems and put their dogs or cats on a mainly raw meat diet. We try for a more balanced diet.

Thank goodness we're only talking about a few pounds here. A former co-worker had a 20 pound tabby cat she named Gluttony. I don't remember how long the cat lived, but I'm sure its lifespan could have been longer.

"People might use feeding their pets as a vent for their emotional needs," Dr. Bonnie Blake of Boswell's Animal Clinic in Columbus, Ohio, told The Columbus Dispatch. "They view their pets as equal and want them to eat what they eat or as often as they eat. That's not how God designed the dog."

Americans tend to feed their dogs a reward when a walk or run outside might be more what they need.

"Walking a dog regularly can be a great way for both of you to stay fit, and it is a fun activity as well," said Sandy Amass, associate dean of the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. "When the weather turns colder it is easy to want to stay indoors, but it is just as important to keep exercising."

So every family member in this house will be shedding a few pounds this winter -- Happy New Year.

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