In a culture of immediate gratification, food is often equated to love, so it’s easy to see why the animals we’ve spent thousands of years domesticating are dealing with the same obesity problems as their humans.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. Risks of excess weight in animals are much the same as that of humans and include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory ailments, many forms of cancer and a nearly 2.5 years decrease in life expectancy.
The pet industry as a whole has responded with a vast selection of products and marketing campaigns focused on educating pet owners about the epidemic.
Nutrition, Portion Control
Proper feeding and nutrition is one of the most important aspects of lowering a pet’s weight.
“The most important part of feeding is to know how many calories your dog or cat requires each day to maintain his ideal weight and then this amount can be fed once or split into multiple feedings accordingly,” Bettie Hamilton, vice president marketing/product development for Halo, Purely for Pets, said. “Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your pet needs each day to avoid obesity.”
To combat pet obesity, pet food companies have developed specific formulations to address the issue. For example, Halo offers their Spot’s Stew for Dogs Healthy Weight FF Turkey and Duck, and Spot’s Stew Cats GF Healthy Weight Whitefish and Salmon formulas.
Companies, like Nutro, are also developing formulas geared toward specific types of dogs. For example, they offer weight management formulas for both large and small breed dogs.
To assist in caloric control, it’s important to use precise measurements.
“Portion control is a key factor in slowing the rate of obesity,” Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas International, said. “Too many people estimate serving size or worse, pour directly from a bag. The collapsible KlipScoop attaches directly to the bag to keep food fresh and serve as a reminder that each serving should be measured.”
The award-winning KlipScoop and Popware line of pet bowls fold flat for easy storage and are dishwasher-safe.
“The Aikiou encourages pets to eat more slowly, which can stimulate intellect and reduce digestive problems,” Alexandre Tremblay, president of Distributions Aikiou, Inc., said. “Both cats and dogs like to hunt for food and they also have the need to be mentally stimulated and entertained. Aikiou’s products satisfy both these needs.”
The Company of Animals offers several different types of products to help a pet eat slower, including their Green Slow Feeder for dogs, which also comes in a mini size, and their Catch Cat Slow Feeder. Pet owners scatter the desired amount of food across the Green and a dog ‘works’ to push the food out between the many blades of grass.
“The average dog can eat their meal in 2-5 minutes, whereas using one of the Green Feeders or Buster Dog Maze can get that time to 17-21 minutes,” Jeanette Holliday, marketing executive for The Company of Animals, said. “This helps prevent bloat and other digestive issues that have now become so common in pets today.”
But what if a pet refuses to eat a low-calorie food?
Additives like Doggie Shotz, a new product from Pet Alternatives are designed for pets that prefer flavors like BBQ Ribs and Bacon Cheeseburgers.
“Doggie Shotz offers great taste, enhanced nutrition and a gourmet experience for any dog,” Bill Kavanov, CEO of Pet Alternatives, explained. “The product line is 90 percent fat free, gluten-free and contains a unique blend of essential vitamins and minerals.”
Tempting Treats Without the Pounds
“Pet owners feel good when they give treats, but often do not realize how many unnecessary calories treats provide,” Hamilton said. “Only 10 percent of a pet’s daily calories should come from treats.”
When training a dog or cat, there are often many treats involved. These can pack on calories very quickly.
Consider sticking to a low calorie treat. LicketyStik from PetSafe offers a great way to treat pets with their innovative treat delivery system, and at only one calorie per ten licks, pets can be rewarded as often as needed. Quickies, made from 100 percent wild, line-caught Icelandic Haddock from The Honest Kitchen are high-protein, low-carb fish treats for dogs, with just 1.1 calories per treat.
“They are perfect for training,” Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, said. “Quickies are packaged in a 2 oz. eco-friendly tube that fit in your pocket while you’re on the go and allow owners to reward often without packing on the pounds.”
This also goes for pets other than dogs and cats.
Exercise Eliminates Pounds
While nutrition is an important part of the puzzle, exercise is an integral part of the solution.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, but neither can you out-feed a poor exercise program. It’s recommended that pets exercise at least 30-60 minutes per day.
“In a perfect world owners would take their pets on daily jogs, but bad weather, leash laws, limited open space and the hectic schedule of daily life don’t always allow this,” Krista Wickens, PetZen co-owner, said. “Dog exercise equipment like the DogTread is not intended as a replacement for healthy outdoor exercise for pets and owners, but as an option to ensure dogs get the exercise they need when circumstances like weather or time don’t allow otherwise.”
DogTread offers a variety of treadmill products for dogs of all sizes, plus other canine gym gear like the K9FITvest, which makes it easy to incorporate gradual therapeutic resistance training, cooling, sensory integration and safety into all of a dog’s activities.
“Pet obesity goes beyond nutrition and into mental and physical health,” Wickens said. “A holistic, three-pronged approach is imperative to guarantee results.”
While GoPet features a traditional treadmill for dogs, they also offer the TreadWheel, which is dog powered, requires no electricity and can be used anytime, anywhere.
Tracking Progress with Technology
There are tons of apps and other items, such as the Fitbit, that helps humans track their exercise progress. Well, not there are similar accessories for pets.
“It’s important for pet owners to understand their pet’s behavior,” Jeff Zotara, vice president of marketing for Snaptracs Tagg Tracker, said. “There is an initial adrenaline rush as pets rush to greet their humans. But, that’s not indicative of how active a pet is during the day. Tagg Activity Tracking allows an owner to judge the cumulative effect of a pet’s activity level and judge how active their pets are on an ongoing basis. If pets are less active than they were a week ago, it could be indicative of a physical or mental issue that needs to be checked out.”
Phone apps, such as SlimDoggy, are other valuable tools designed to empower pet owners.
“SlimDoggy is pre-loaded with nutritional information for nearly every brand of pet food and a canine calorie calculator,” Steve Pelletier, founder and CEO, said. “By simply listing the amount of food given to a pet and the type of exercise, owners are able to easily adjust their pets daily feedings and treats each day.
“The basic act of living burns nearly 90 percentof all calories they will burn for the day. This is why the amount you feed your dog is so mission-critical. Weight gain is insidious.”