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Countering Pet Obesity by Rethinking Feeding Habits

190 million Americans share the luxuries of human life with their pets. Giving dogs and cats a place in human homes, beds and sometimes even their willscomes with the family member package.

Among these shared human-pet comforts is the unique luxury to overeat. As a result, the most common form of malnutrition for Americans and their companion animals results not from the underconsumption, but the overconsumption of food. A release from the American Society of Animal Science  notes that the obesity epidemic also causes a similar array of diseases in people and pets: diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cancer.

During the 2015 American Dairy Science Association-American Society of Animal Science Joint Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, five companion animal nutrition experts from around the world further examined the implications of over- or inaccurately feeding cats and dogs. “Companion Animal Symposium: Bioenergetics of pet food” was a part of the Companion Animal Science Program, an event sponsored annually by the George Fahey Appreciation Club.

Bioenergetics concern energy flow through living systems. Since obesity results from an imbalance of energy use and intake, bioenergetics help scientists understand the correlation between overweight animals and the food they consume.

The most definitive player in pet health is the owner. Dr. Kelly Swanson, Professor of Animal and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, says the first step in combating pet obesity is simply realizing that an animal is overweight.

The release quotes Swanson as saying, “Owners need to actually recognize that their pet is obese, and is not just a funny, pudgy animal that looks cute. Lean, healthy pets not only live longer, but more importantly, have a better quality of life.”

In fact, some lifelong studies show that maintaining a lean body condition score (BCS 4 or 5) adds an average of 1.8 years to dogs’ lives. Preserving steady body conditions requires owners to not just read pet food labels, but to actually understand and apply the feeding directions.

Food types and feeding frequencies also need to vary from animal to animal. Dr. Dennis Jewell, Research Scientist at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, emphasized the customization of feeding programs to fit each individual.

“Each pet has unique genetics that determine, for example, if they’re going to use more calories to maintain their body weight than other animals,” said Jewell. “We can design feeding programs for specific pet populations – based on factors like age, size, et cetera – but feeding regimens still come down to the individual pet.”

For example, weight-loss regimens equate to the feeding of less energy-dense and more fiber-dense diets. Increased fiber intake results in less ad-libitum food consumption.


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