According to Statistic Brain losing weight is the number 1 resolution made on New Years. I know getting healthy is always at the top of my list. But trimming the fat is just as important for our furry friends as it is for us, for many of the same reasons. But how do you know if your pet is healthy? A recent study found that most pet owners incorrectly identify what weight category their pets fall into. Take a good, honest look at your pet. Odds are they could stand to lose a few pounds. A couple weeks ago we covered some great ways to burn winter calories but exercise is only half the equation. Knowing how much to feed your pet can be a daunting task and will vary by so many factors. I want to take out at least some of the guesswork.
- Swotas first day on the ranch, with her personal trainer Grey Spirit (he's the lean one)
But let me give you a little bit of back story first. When Swota first came to live with us she had made her way through a few homes. Each of them loved her very much but fell on hard circumstances. In fact, it would seem that they loved her a bit too much. When she first joined the Furever Friends family she was so overweight that when she slept on her side her legs stuck strait into the air rather than resting on the floor. So her first few months were spent with my parents on their 50 acre ranch chasing rabbits and trying to keep up with their malamute Grey Spirit. Though she still outweighs her housemate, Swota continues to make strides toward the lean, healthy, running machine she was meant to be. So in trying to get her healthy I've done a good bit of research on the subject.
What to Feed
First and foremost you want to start with a good quality food. "What's the best food for my dog?" you ask. Now that is a loaded question! Everyone from your veterinarian, to your trainer, to the clerk at the sales counter will likely give you a very different answer. There are mountains of research on the subject that I'll save for another day. However, there are a few good rules of thumb to help you choose what's right for your pet.
Count those Calories
- Buy the best you can comfortably afford. It is not necessary to break the bank to feed your furry friend. But if you buy bargain basement pet food you are likely setting yourself up for future medical problems.
- Pet stores (especially the big box ones) usually stock the most expensive food toward the front, and the cheapest toward the back.
- Just like human food, pet foods will list ingredients, and nutritional breakdown on the label. (if they don't, be very worried) And just like human food the ingredient listed first is going to be the one in the largest quantity.
- High price doesn't always mean high quality. Some brands put A LOT of money into clever ad campaigns. Compare labels: if two brands offer the exact same ingredients, in the same order/ nutritional breakdown. Consider whether the cheaper one might just be less heavily marketed.
- Need some more advise? Try Dog Food Adviser or Pet Food Ratings for a second opinion. They do a great job of breaking down why they rate foods the way they do.
- Cheap/low quality foods are often mostly filler, meaning you will have to feed a lot more to give your pet the same amount of nutrition.
- Be sure to buy age/size specific. Growing puppies have very specific nutrition requirements. Large and small breeds also have specific nutritional needs.
Once you've figured out what your feeding you have to figure out how much. Factors to consider will include your pets breed, size, age, and activity level. Dog Food Adviser makes it easy with a handy calculator
. You just have to be honest about your pets activity level. If your not sure about your pets ideal weight you can always ask your vet or look up AKC breed standards to get a general idea. Somewhere on the label the food should list Kcal per cup, or you may have to go to the manufacturer website. Once you've done the math always use a measuring cup. You may be surprised by just how little your pet should be eating. And make sure that if you change foods you recalculate. If you've been drastically overfeeding, don't drastically change your pets diet. Make small, gradual changes.
Don't forget about Snacking
Don't forget to factor snacks into your pets daily calorie intake. Especially if your not the only one handing out goodies, it's easiest to measure out a set number of snacks to be distributed throughout the day. If your pet is on a prescription or diet food consider buying the canned variety to cut up & bake for treats, there are some great recipes
. Or consider some leaner options. Carrots, green beans, ice cubes, and raw sweet potatoes are great crunchy treats for chewers. And think very carefully before offering people food.
Cats can fare even worse. It is estimated that over 57% of cats in the US are overweight or obese. Free feeding cats is more common than dogs but not all cats are great with self-regulating. And some will gorge just because they feel they have to out-compete their house mates. While few animals can be quite as demanding as a hungry cat, keeping them lean will give you years more to love them. Cats who live indoors tend toward the lazy side and it is even more important to get them the right balance of quality food and indoor hunting.
All judgement aside, pet obesity can lead to a whole host of health concerns:
- Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart and Respiratory Disease
- Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
- Kidney Disease
- Many Forms of Cancer
- Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
For more info on pet weight health go to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention
PS. I am not a vet or nutritionist. This blog should serve as food for thought. If you have questions about your pets health I encourage you to do your own research, including consulting with your pets doc.
-images borrowed from the internet, rights belong to their respective authors.