News & Politics

Pets: Keeping Sparky in Shape

If you give your pets lots of treats and feed them from the table, you might be making them fat. Here are tips on watching their weight.

Studies indicate that one out of every three cats and dogs is overweight. While your pet doesn’t have to worry about squeezing into a pair of jeans, those extra pounds could harm its health, says veterinarian David Jackson of the VCA University Veterinary Clinic in Fairfax.

We asked Jackson for tips on keeping pets healthy.

Should we be concerned?

Absolutely. Obesity is a very serious problem. It can strain the hips and spine. It can create breathing problems and affect the heart, kidneys, and liver. Obesity can shorten a pet’s lifespan.

What’s the biggest sign of a weight problem?

If you can’t feel the ribs, that’s a concern. But most owners can simply look at their pet and see there is a problem. What happens, however, is what happens with the human obesity problem—denial.

Why are pets getting fat?

The problem often is spoiling pets with table treats. Pets don’t go to the refrigerator and help themselves—it’s people who overfeed pets.

Are pet treats a problem?

Yes, if you overdo it. Do you give your pet one Milk-Bone or 22? The package can provide guidance, but recommendations from manufacturers often are greater than what the pet truly requires. Check with your veterinarian.

How important is exercise?

In most cases, the more the better. If you can take your dog for a walk every morning and evening, that would be wonderful. Indoor play is good. Toss your cat that little fuzzy thing they like to bat around.

How can we help our pets?

Feed them the appropriate amount—and no table treats. If appropriate food intake is not working, we can look for medical problems, like thyroid conditions.

For dogs that are just not losing the weight, there’s a product called Slentrol. It decreases appetite. The dogs I’ve treated—it’s only for dogs—have been doing well with it. I haven’t seen evidence of any health risks. The only side effect is one in four or five dogs will have nausea after the first dose. Ideally, we use it for the short term and then maintain proper weight with diet.

This article appears in the May 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.