Making Pet Health a Priority

January 2, 2013

As many Americans start the new year with the goal of getting healthier, you might want to do the same for your pets.

Dr. John Andersen at Monticello Animal Hospital said overweight animals, especially dogs, are one of the most common issues he sees in his office.

"A lot of times it is not really obvious to the owners and some people are very surprised when I tell them their dog is 10 or 15 pounds overweight," Andersen said.

Andersen said it's easier to tell when a larger dog has packed on too many pounds.

"It's a lot more obvious in the bigger dogs because there's a lot more fat," he said.

Andersen said, no matter if the dog is large or small, if it's overweight, it's most likely because of an over-feeding problem, not because it's not getting enough playtime.

"Exercise usually has nothing to do with whether your dog is overweight or not," Andersen said. "Yes, exercise burns calories and is good, but you have to usually do so much activity to burn off the amount of extra calories you're feeding your pet that it just isn't feasible."

According to Andersen, for a 60-pound dog, a small Milk-Bone treat is like eating a donut for a human. A similar snack for a smaller dog is equivalent to a few ice cream sundaes. And, just as you should monitor calories, you should also monitor the kind of food you feed your pets.

"A lot of people get into trouble because a substantial portion of the dog's calorie intake is coming from table food or snacks and that's just harder to regulate."

But doing all the calculations can be confusing to a pet owner, according to Pattie Boden, owner of Charlottesville pet food shop Animal Connections.

"The packaging is beautiful and everybody has bright, shiny pictures of meats and vegetables on the label," Boden said. "The labels are hard to read as far as the contents."

Her top tip for shoppers is to ask as many questions as possible so they really know what's in the food and if it's a good match for their pet.

When switching to a new brand of food, Andersen said you want to pay extra attention to those nutrition labels. Just because you fed your dog a cup of one brand doesn't mean a cup of another brand has the same caloric value.

Andersen said cats aren't as commonly overweight. But if you do have a fat feline, you might be feeding it too many carbohydrates, especially if your cat is on a dry food diet.

"Sometimes switching to canned cat food, which has a lot less carbs and more protein, is the ticket to really getting their metabolism to work better and getting them to lose weight," said Andersen.

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