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Address the Common Pet Problem of Obesity with Educated Food Choices


December 4, 2018

According to recent survey results published by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), the rate of pet obesity in the U.S. has increased, with an estimated 56 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats weighing in as overweight or obese.

“Studies have shown that dogs that are kept at a healthy weight have a longer average lifespan than dogs that are overweight,” said Celeste Treadway, DVM, a member of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. “More importantly, pets that are kept lean have improved activity levels and quality of life.”

Pets aren’t in charge of what goes into their food bowls, so it’s up to pet owners to ensure that they’re feeding a nutritionally balanced and responsible diet. And this is where pet specialty retailers play an important role in having a selection of weight management food and treat options available in order to guide consumers with nutritional options.

Managing Calorie Intake

“The weight management conversation is definitely a two-way street,” said Brandi Issacs, manager of Bark ‘N Meow in Johns Island, South Carolina. “Often, customers come in looking for help with their pet’s diet. Alternatively, when having a conversation about diet, if appropriate, I will suggest a weight management food option.”

Recently, the store added Elite Healthy Weight from the new brand PureLUXE Pet Food to their weight management food options.

“Our Healthy Weight Dog Formula is designed for less active dogs, mature canines or those that simply need to be on a diet,” explained Pat Mendicki, vice president of sales and business development. “The calorie-focused turkey, salmon and lentils formula is nutritionally dense and will help to keep pets in great condition. We also add L-carnitine, which is an important nutrient that acts as a transport for fatty acids, essential for the cellular production of energy, as well as adding taurine to all of our dog formulas, which boosts the amino acids that are critical to life.”

PureLUXE foods are created for what the brand calls “citi-fied” pets.

“City life can mean limited space and opportunities to let pets run and play. This, in turn, can lead to other problems, such as eating out of boredom, which can lead to obesity,” Mendicki said. “Daily exercise is needed, such as a walk or playing in the park or yard. Bring water with you; by giving your dog a swallow every five to 10 minutes, you can help the dog get into the habit of drinking water regularly at home. Also, by feeding your dog once or twice a day according to feeding guidelines, gets your dog into a daily routine. Making the food constantly available to them may confuse thirst for hunger.”

According to Jilliann Smith, communications director for Merrick Pet Care, Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Healthy Weight recipe is one of the top ten sellers for the company’s value natural brand, Whole Earth Farms. The grain-free chicken recipe is made with flavorful and nutritious ingredients such as dried blueberries, rosemary, sage and thyme.

And, for the holiday season, Zuke’s has released Mini Naturals Holiday Treats, available in pumpkin and tree shapes.

“They are the perfect size to fit every trainable moment that pops up this season,” Smith said. “These tasty, tender morsels are specially crafted in the USA and made with high-quality, seasonal ingredients like turkey and pumpkin. These yummy mini rewards are less than three calories per treat and also don’t contain corn, wheat or soy.”

Feeding the Right Formula

According to Dr. Danielle Bernal, veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, one of the reasons for canine obesity is not feeding a pet the right life stage diet.

“It’s something that pet parents may not think about when it comes to weight management for their dog. Just like people, pets tend to gain weight as they get older; they slow down and aren’t as physically active as they may have been when they were young,” Dr. Bernal explained. “This means their nutrition needs to adjust to accommodate their new pace and activity level. For instance, formulas like Wellness CORE RawRev Puppy contain optimal protein, calcium and phosphorus to support healthy bone and muscle growth, which puppies need at a young age, but is not suitable beyond puppyhood. Our senior recipes are often lower in calories and contain targeted nutrients for senior dogs to support things like joint and bone health.

“If dogs stay on one recipe for their entire lives, they may not be getting the right balance of nutrients they need for their specific lifestyle, which could lead to obesity or other health issues down the road,” she added. “Wellness has the Wellness CORE Reduced Fat formula and Wellness CORE Small Breed Healthy Weight, a specific formula for weight management for small breeds. Ultimately, when in doubt, we recommend pet parents consult their veterinarian to discuss which recipe is right for their pet.”

While pets of all sizes and breeds are impacted by over-feeding, Freshpet’s Director of Marketing, Jake Trainor, says that small breeds under 25 pounds are particularly impacted because while they may have big personalities, they don’t have big stomachs.

“It doesn’t take much food before small dogs feel the effects of a mismanaged feeding routine, and even as little variation as one or two pounds of weight gain can really impact their little joints and add potential for arthritis and heart disease,” he said. “To target this group, we produced Freshpet Select Small Dog featuring bite-sized morsels of 100 percent U.S. farm-raised chicken that is perfectly portioned for the smallest of our furry family members. The recipe is formulated with targeted levels of protein and fat to support small dogs’ high-energy requirements, which also aid in weight management. We also recommend smaller meals multiple times a day, as these dogs need to consume larger quantities in relation to their body weight than larger breeds.”

At Freshpet, when it comes to healthy weight management, we encourage pet parents to look for pet foods listed as ‘complete and balanced,’ meaning the food is providing all necessary nutrients at the right levels for their pet’s life stage,” he continued. “High-protein, meat based foods are rich with natural amino acids and other nutrients that help the body to build lean muscle, burn fat and promote healthy organ function, helping dogs better maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight as a result.”

Maintaining the Right Balance

Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company, headquartered in

Markham, Illinois, stressed the importance of pet owners ensuring that not only do they serve delicious meals to their pets, but that they are part of a calorically-balanced diet.

The company has a Senior & Weight Management formula designed for older, overweight and less active dogs.

“And, for pooches that are a bit overweight, we also recommend that pet parents switch to our

Chicken & Brown Rice, Pheasant & Brown Rice, Whitefish & Sweet Potato or our new Grain-Free Chicken with Sweet Potato and Pumpkin diets, and replace part of the dry diet with any canned foods,” Sher said. “Our grain-free proteins in cans include duck, chicken, beef, rabbit, pheasant, buffalo and we recently added pork. This means that your dieting dog can lose weight without feeling starved, and you know you’ve done something nutritious, balanced and gentle. Be sure to limit the overall amount of food and treats given and eaten, too.”

As consumers are well aware, it can be very difficult to feed a designated weight management food in a multi-pet household. Earlier this year, Vet Innovations launched their PortionPro Rx Pet Feeder to the veterinary community. It uses patented technology to help pets lose weight by controlling both portions and access. The company is now looking to crossover into the pet retail space.

“It works beautifully in homes with multiple pets to minimize mealtime chaos and ensure that the right pet eats the right food in the right amount,” said Troy Hexter, DVM and chief medical officer for Vet Innovations. “Combining the PortionPro Rx device with a weight loss diet is the ideal way to help pets lose weight and live longer, happier lives.”

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