Healthy Pets for Healthy Owners

Similar to humans, obesity in our pets is a growing problem. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 54% of cats and dogs are overweight or obese.

Just like their owners, pets require exercise and a healthy diet to stay fit. Many dog owners believe that letting their canine companions out into the yard, constitutes exercise. Unfortunately, most dogs often sniff around for a short while and then fall asleep at the back door. On the same note, cat owners believe that it is normal for their cat to sleep most of the day. What veterinarians find, however, is that these pets gain more weight each year, which can lead to a number of health problems.

Unhealthy weight gain places increased stress on your pets, leading to painful osteoarthritis and ligament injuries, such as cranial cruciate tears. Overweight cats are prone to developing insulin-resistant diabetes. Heart and respiratory conditions, such as heart valve problems and asthma, can worsen. Sadly, the life expectancy of a pet can be reduced by as much as 2 ½ years because of obesity.

Fortunately for Rockland residents, outdoor activities for the pet owner are plentiful! In Rockland County, there are a number of dog-friendly parks to enjoy, such as Kennedy Dells Park in New City and Kakiat Park in Montebello. In addition, there are beautiful walkways and hiking trails in the area, varying in degrees of intensity. The Pier in Piermont provides a beautiful leisurely stroll along the Hudson. Close by is Tallman State Park which offers a rigorous uphill climb to the top of the mountain. Walking, running, rollerblading, and biking with your dog are excellent ways for both you and your dog to burn calories. For water-loving dogs, there are a number access points to the water along Nyack Beach State Park. For the indoor-dwelling cat, a laser pointer toy or the FroliCat®, can provide hours of activity for an otherwise sedentary cat.

Monitoring how many calories your pet ingests each day is as important as increasing the number of calories your pet burns daily. Try regulating your pet’s food intake by offering meals rather than leaving a full bowl of food available throughout the day. Feeding meals allows the owner to control how many calories a pet consumes each day. Purchase a measuring cup and measure out the food given to your pet. This allows you to see how much food you need to provide your pet in order to maintain a proper body weight. The type of food a pet eats will also influence their body weight.

For severely overweight pets, there are several excellent, low-calorie prescription diets available through veterinarians. Veterinarians and veterinary staff can help owners in determining a pet’s ideal body weight by performing a physical examination and calculating a pet’s daily caloric requirements.
With this information, an owner can determine how much food and what type of diet will best suit their pet’s needs.

Lastly, avoid feeding food from the table. Pets who beg for food should be kept away from the table during meal-time to avoid owners sneaking their loved ones treats under the table. Offering low-calorie treats, such as carrots, green beans, and rice cakes is a great way to reward pets in a healthy way.

By keeping your pet fit and healthy, owners can avoid many preventable health problems and enjoy a long, happy, active life with their furry family members. Just like humans, our pets need to eat well and be active.

Dr. Downing’s professional interests include emergency medicine, ultrasonography and surgery. A general practitioner and emergency veterinarian at the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 2005, Dr. Downing, a co-owner of the hospital, oversees the emergency side of the practice.