Honestly, chances are they are – your pets are more than likely overweight and sadly obese. We saw a steady increase in 2016 in pet obesity, affecting nearly 59% of cats and 54% of dogs, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
I See Fat Pets Every Day
I see it daily and while one could say running a pet care business is tough because of all the pieces that have to fit together; scheduling, meeting clients needs, caring for their animals in the specific way expected, billing, managing staff – you get the idea – truth be told, one of the most difficult issues I have found myself dealing with over 14 years is fat pets.
Fat pets make me sad, my heart aches for the pain and discomfort they must be in and it’s all at the hands of their doting owners.
If I’m not in charge of a portly Pomeranian for work, I’m surrounded by them in my family. I love my aunt to bits and pieces and she loves her dogs, but she owned one of the fattest Labs I have ever seen. When I asked her how much she was feeding, she said “only 2 cups a day, like the bag says”. It wasn’t until I went into her dog food bin and saw the cup, it was a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup, that’s a whopping 32 oz!!!! An actual cup measurement is only 8 oz, so her Lab was getting four times the intended amount TWICE A DAY! This didn’t count the treats and left overs he received or snagged on his own accord.
Then there are the cats, the clients that write me notes stating even though the wet food is better, they have to leave the hard food down since the cats are used to eating three times a day. Oh and the vet said they could afford to lose weight but they don’t want them to be on a diet while they (the owners are away).
Or the client that sends the extra chicken and meatballs to feed in addition to the normal meals because they are having a baby and don’t want the dog to feel left out.
And of course the client whose dog knows the sound of the ice cream truck not because it equals love from kids but because they get an ICE CREAM CONE.
Medical Problems Associated with Obesity
These pets are suffering from so many medical issues, here is a list of what you can expect if you plan to share your life with a portly pet:
Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
High Blood Pressure
Heart and Respiratory Disease
Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
Many Forms of Cancer
Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
So How Can You Tell If They Are Fat?
PetMd has a good article and tool to help you tell if your pet is fat. Sadly there is a greater than 50% chance that they are.
While it may be terribly awkward for your veterinarian to do so as they fear backlash and insulting pet owners, it is their duty to let you know. The good news is many are telling their clients that their pets are pudgy but I cannot tell you how many clients have then switched vets to one that wont say anything, or they just brush it off.
I know it can be hard to judge your pet since you see them every single day but look at the chart. Stand above your pet is another great way to tell – if you cannot see a tuck in the waist from the hip points to their ribs, they’re fat. If their stomach is level with their ribs, they are fat.
Veterinarians are also apt and able to use more medical terms as they are advised in this DVM360’s article states about getting awkward in the exam room and discussing weight. They can say your pet is obese or overweight.
For the pet sitter like myself who lacks the medical degree, I’m stuck dancing around the topic and have been left to come up with creative ways to tell my clients that their pet is fat. If I don’t, I get fired – it has happened.
Winter plumage, pleasantly plump, on the thicker side, wow he’s a big boy, could afford to shed a few – the list goes on, these are some of the arsenal of phrases I have packed away to tell my client’s that their pets have packed on the pounds. While generally well-received, I find that I cannot make much of an impact. Some will say they hired us to walk the dog because their vet said their pet was overweight, while other’s will thank me for noticing and just keep their rotund pets the way they are. Often I just refer back to the vet and hope for the animal’s sake that the vet tells them the truth.
Literally just a week ago one of my staff kept saying that Bailey the Golden was gaining weight. She sent us a picture and indeed the Golden was HUGE. The employee had been making the gentle mentions I listed above but this was getting serious and the client was not reacting. My husband and I finally reached out to the client and sternly suggested she go to the vet to get weighed, 40 pounds, 40 POUNDS the Golden had gained in a year!!!!! That is absurd.
I don’t make different money for caring for healthy weight pets versus overweight pets, in fact the income is absolutely the same. What does get better is the pet’s health and my staff’s mental health. Seeing obese pets is to me as harmful as seeing a person hit an animal. I know some will disagree but the pain they feel, the constant pain from being overweight could actually be seen as worse than a one time clobber. I don’t want to argue the point here but I do want to make the point that feeding your pet too much is a form of abuse.
Why Are Pets Fat?
Well, how does Fluffy or Fido show you they love you? They’ll snuggle with you on the couch, purr at your feet and give you that super duper cute beg face. What makes them happy – food. Human’s love to give pets what they typically would have to go get themselves, food. My dogs and cat work very hard for treats, they can learn massive amounts of new tricks and even run entire 20 obstacle agility courses based on the fact that they will receive a huge food reward once complete. Cats and dogs LOVE food, and they were built to, just like us.
The issue is they were built to be super opportunistic in order to survive. On their own they would need to hunt or scavenge for food so they have an innate ability to seek it out. Well, when it comes flowing from our hands and pockets, they don’t have to go far.
While it feels great to give your pet a food reward for just being awesome, think about the overall cause. Will that food reward be deducted from their dinner calories? Just because you gave them a treat and rewarded them, doesn’t mean you need to stuff them. When my pets have a training day, which is 2-3 times per week, they get smaller meals either before the training to keep them sharp, or after to keep them fit. They still get dinner and they love getting dinner, they just get a smaller dinner.
It’s the same with us, if we eat a piece of cake with our lunch (because of someone’s birthday at the office), we know we should have a smaller dinner to make up for the extra calories. People should get into this habit with their pets. It’s a bit more challenging considering most pet treats do not list calories but do some research to understand that a) our pets require a substantially smaller amount of calories per day than we do and b) pet foods and treats contain a substantial amount of calories.
Be Honest For Them
Don’t make it awkward for your veterinarian to have to tell you your cat is obese and don’t make your dog walker sad to walk your fat dog. Think about what you feed your pet, consider their level of activity and if you have some winter plumage yourself, think about great ways you can burn that off with your pet.
Cats are house predators, they love to chase, crack out their favorite toy, get them moving and get your butt moving! I’ve burned off some serious calories and gotten an arm workout with a cat dancer toy and my cat.
Dogs LOVE to be walked and it’s a great way to walk off calories. Don’t go to the dog park and stand around, call your friends and go walk a pathway, or meet up to walk on the rail trail the town just built or along the esplanade near your city’s waterfront. Live a little more remotely – see if there are trails nearby or even just throw the frisbee in the yard, do something!
Do you want to know if your pet is fat? Share a picture on our Facebook post and we’ll tell you, but don’t take offense, we’re doing this only to help keep your pet healthy. The healthier they are, the better the short time you have with them will be (and the lower your vet bills!)