Even as public health experts report with alarm that human weight averages are increasing, veterinarians have long been worried about the same trend in our pets.
Dogs and cats are getting larger for the same reasons that people are: too much food and not enough exercise.
And obesity in pets causes a lot of the same problems it does in people. An overweight pet is prone to a host of related issues, including diabetes, joint, ligament and tendon difficulties, and breathing and heart challenges. Overweight cats can even develop skin problems from not being able to groom themselves properly. The overall impact on comfort and longevity can be dire.
But the truth is that it's not as difficult to trim down pets as it might be to fight your own battles with the bulge. What pets eat depends on what we give them. And although we might groan at the thought of exercise, our pets are always up for a brisk walk, a game of fetch or some play with a toy on a string. They love to move, especially if we're moving with them.
Simply put: There's no excuse for an overweight pet. Especially not today, with veterinarians well-armed not only with advice but with special foods that can help you trim the excess from your pet. These products were well-represented at the North American Veterinary Conference, which recently wrapped up its 25th annual convention for veterinarians in Orlando, Fla.
Healthy pets have some padding on them, but a little padding is plenty. Rub your hands over the ribs of your dog or cat. The skin should move easily back and forth, and you should be able to feel the ribs. Your pet should have a definable "waist" at the bottom of the rib cage. Take a look from the side: If your pet looks pregnant, he's fat.
Crash diets aren't good for pets, especially not for fat cats, who can develop a fatal liver problem if forced to reduce too quickly. A pet doesn't get fat overnight, and he shouldn't be forced to change course any more rapidly. What you'll need to do is change your pet's eating and exercise habits gradually. Your veterinarian is your partner and resource in this lifestyle change, so enlist her aid early.
Carve out some time out in your schedule to walk your dog or play with your cat -- three times a week, at least, daily if possible. Exercise has an added bonus: In addition to keeping your pet healthy, regular activity helps to correct many behavior problems caused by boredom.
Whatever regimen you and your veterinarian decide on, be determined to stick to it. Get out of the habit of expressing love for your pets by constantly offering treats, and use lower-fat treats such as carrots when you do hand over the goodies. And remember that exercise is good for you both.
Yes, it'll be hard in the beginning, what with those begging eyes and all. But don't give in. Your pet's life will be happier and longer if he's kept fit. And yours will be, too.
Ask questions before
breeding your pet
Q: I bought a poodle, and I would like to get into breeding. Can she be bred on her first heat, and how many times in a row can I breed her? She's a great pet and I know her puppies will be popular. -- via e-mail
A: Before I answer your questions, I have some questions for you to think about:
Has this dog been certified clear of genetic defects? Does she have a stellar temperament -- friendly, calm and trainable? Is she a good example of her breed in terms of her appearance? Can you say the same of the stud dog?
Do you have money set aside for routine prenatal veterinary care and puppy care, and even more money at the ready if something goes wrong with the dog or the puppies? Are you prepared for the dog's death as a result of pregnancy or the rigors of giving birth? What about the risk of cancer or deadly infection common in unspayed dogs -- are you willing to lose her to these diseases?
Will you have a waiting list of responsible, prescreened homes for her puppies before they're born? Are you prepared to spend countless hours caring for and socializing the puppies in the first seven weeks of their lives? Will you be willing to take back any puppy you sell no matter what, no matter when?
If you cannot answer "yes" to each of these questions, then your dog should not be bred at all. Reputable, responsible breeders rarely breed a female more than twice before spaying her, and many of the promising dogs they have are not bred at all because they are not of breeding quality in terms of health, temperament and (in some breeds) working ability. These breeders also take lifetime responsibility for any dog that they bring into the world.
I realize those are not the simple answers you wanted, but the responsible breeding of dogs is about more than mechanics of reproduction. -- Gina Spadafori
Tabby cats come
in many colors
-- "Tabby" is a general term for striped cats, and tabbies come in many colors and patterns -- more than 40 varieties in all. Red tabbies seem to have a special following and mythology, perhaps because in male cats, the red-orange gene is almost always connected with tabby markings, while among females, red-orange cats can be tabbies, tortoiseshells or calicoes. (About one calico in 3,000 is male, but he's not your usual male, in that he carries an extra "X" chromosome.)
Tabbies can be further distinguished by differences in the patterns of their stripes. For example, a spotted tabby has gaps in the striping pattern, making the dark color appear as spots. The most recognizable is probably the "mackerel" tabby, with parallel lines placed like the ribs of a fish -- hence the name. All tabby cats carry a special mark in common, an "M" on the top of their heads.
-- A dog's heart normally beats between 70 to 180 times per minute, with little dogs having a faster heart rate. A puppy will also have a faster pulse -- up to 220 beats per minute. You can take your dog's pulse at home, by the way, but not by putting your fingertips on your dog's wrist, as you would with a person. Instead, check the heart rate in one of two places:
Choice 1: Put your hand over your dog's left side, behind the front leg. You'll feel the heart pulsing beneath your fingers (if you can't, you might talk to your veterinarian about getting some of the fat off your dog).
Choice 2: Put your fingertips on the femoral artery, on the inside of the leg just where it meets the body, right in the middle. (It's a pretty big blood vessel, so you shouldn't have any problem finding it.)
Either way, count the beats while 15 seconds click off your watch. Multiply by four to get the BPM, or beats per minute. Do it when your dog is healthy and relaxed, so you'll know what's normal. --Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.