Resolutions for a Happier, Healthier Pet
By Jaime Stephens
December is the most festive time of year, with Hanukkah, Christmas and the promise of a new year ahead, but did you know that December is also National Cat Lover’s Month? It’s an excellent time to think not only about your own health, but the health of your pets, and to get the New Year off to a good start.
The number one most preventable health issue for both cats and dogs in the United States is obesity. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2018 clinical survey, 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats were classified as clinically overweight or obese by their veterinary healthcare professional. Obesity is said to occur when an animal’s weight exceeds an additional 30% of their ideal weight. Forty to forty-five percent of dogs aged 5 – 11 years of age weigh in higher than they should. Only 39% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners, however, consider their pets overweight. Common conditions of both overweight dogs and cats include diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, lameness and limping and, in cats, kidney disease and congestive heart failure. Cats, in particular, are very adept at hiding their discomfort and pain. In addition to having a healthier pet, maintaining an acceptable average weight provides a higher quality of life, a longer life expectancy, and lower veterinary costs. As with humans, maintaining a healthy weight requires a commitment to both a healthier diet and an active lifestyle. To help keep your pet trim, first consult with your vet about the best diet based on your pet’s particular needs. Before you visit your vet, there are a few ways to determine whether your pet may need to slim down.
Does their stomach sag? This is a clear indication that your dog is overweight, but not so clear with regard to cats. Note that all cats have a primordial pouch in their stomach that is more pronounced near the back legs. It sags, jiggles and, depending on the size, sways from side to side. Many pet parents assume that it’s equivalent to a human’s spare tire, but that’s not the case. It’s actually just a soft flap of skin under a cat’s belly, a mix of fat, skin, and fur. Vets aren’t positive why cats have stomach pouches but there are numerous theories, including protection to abdominal organs and acting as a fat reserve, storing fat that can later be converted to energy if a food source is scarce. Large cats, including lions and tigers, also have primordial pouches.
Are their ribs hard to see? Ribs should be easily felt by placing your hands, without pressure, on the sides of their chest.
Does their waist taper? Both dogs and cats should have a distinct taper at their waist between the abdomen and hip sockets. Overweight pets are oval shaped rather than hourglass.
Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs so be sure to seek professional guidance. Feed your pet at the same time every day, so they learn to expect food then and thus will be less likely to beg for food throughout the day. Cut back on treats between feeding and eliminate table scraps, as the calories can add up quickly. Try automatic feeders to regulate food when you’re not at home or automating morning feedings so you can sleep in a bit! Exercise with your pet. Living a healthy lifestyle is good for everyone in the family, not just pets. While most cats don’t care for walks (although some do!), most enjoy chasing a laser, jumping for feather toys, and even fetching. Just keep them, and you, moving!
In addition to regular vet wellness check-ups, dogs and cats, even those cats who are solely indoor cats, need updated basic vaccinations. Animals that spend a significant amount of time in contact with other animals outside of the household, such as ones in doggie daycare, may require additional vaccines. Dogs and cats also require regular dental cleanings. Animals that don’t undergo regular teeth cleanings experience the same problems that people can, including periodontal disease and eventual loss of teeth. Cats are also plagued with tooth resorption (a tooth defect where the root erodes and disappears and is replaced by bone) and inflammation.
Don’t forget that older dogs and cats have special needs as they age. Senior dogs are defined as between five and seven years of age, depending on the breed. Smaller dogs have a longer lifespan than giant breed dogs. Dogs are generally considered senior once they have lived 75% of their lifespan. Senior cats are defined as those between seven and ten years of age. Senior pets may require more frequent vet visits as things can change rapidly in an older dog’s or cat’s body. Sudden weight loss in an older pet, for example, should never be overlooked; it could signal hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, and other conditions in both cats and dogs. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian.
Wishing you, and your pet(s), a happy and healthy holiday season!
Jaime Stephens lives with her husband and cats in Alexandria. She is currently trying to slim one of the felines down.