Is your furry companion fluffy or fat?
Turns out, obesity in cats and dogs is more common than many pet owners would like to think.
One in three feline or canine pets can afford to shed a few pounds, a study by Banfield Pet Hospital reported — and that number is slowly rising.
“It’s definitely been rising in the recent years and there is what’s called a normalization of excess weight,” said Dr. Emi Saito. “For some owners, we’ll see their pet and their pet is actually at a healthy weight but they think their pet is underweight because they are looking at or comparing to the other pets that are around them.”
Jeff Cornell, of Miami, Florida, said he is one of the many pet owners that was surprised to find out his puppy was slightly overweight.
Cali, a 2-year-old Biewer terrier, weighed only 8 pounds when its groomer mentioned the dog felt a little plump.
“We were kind of mortified when we found out,” Cornell told InsideEdition.com. “Our groomer told us she was borderline obese – we were horrified and traumatized, like how did we do this? She’s still a puppy.”
Cornell said he brought her for a quick check up with their normal veterinarian, who recommended limiting her food to just one-sixteenth cup of food in the morning and one-sixteenth cup of food at night to help her get to a healthy five or six pounds.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re really little, it’s a pretty big mountain to climb,” he said.
Dr. Saito said that pet owners may not normally notice a couple extra pounds, but it could add up to a significant percentage of the animal’s weight.
“Pets are much smaller than us,” she said. “Their daily calorie intake requirement to basically function is much, much lower than ours, so what seems to us like a small morsel of something that’s off my plate can actually have a big impact on their weight.”
In fact, a few extra pounds can play a major factor in various health conditions, Saito explained.
“Excess weight is actually associated with a number of serious conditions in pets including arthritis, respiratory problems, so they can start having problems breathing in any normal activity, and it can lead to heart disease,” she said. “Pets who are overweight may actually live shorter lives than pets who aren’t.”
Aimee Wells, of Lafayette, California, said her cat Targa had a few minor health problems like watery eyes that she never equated to his weight until a trip to the veterinarian.
Targa, a 7-year-old Tonkinese, weighed just over 11 pounds when he really should be weighing 10 pounds or less.
An easy way for owners to check if their pet might be carrying a few extra pounds is to observe it from above, Saito recommended.
“Standing over your pet and looking down, you want to be able to see the waist line,” Saito suggested.
Another trick is to feel for your pet’s ribs.
“You don’t want to be able to see the ribs but you want to be able to feel the rib,” she said. “If you feel like you need to dig a little bit to find the ribs or you’re just not seeing the waist line when you’re looking down at your pet, chances are good that your pet is starting to put on some excess weight.”
Wells explained she switched Targa to a low- to no-carb diet under the direction of her veterinarian.
“It was more preventative — I want him to be in the optimal shape and live the longest life that he can, and I decided to change his diet in that direction,” she said. “It’s hilarious because I’m trying to follow the same low carb diet myself and starving to death.”
Even though Targa quickly shed the excess weight and gained a shinier coat through the transformation, the journey to maintaining a healthy weight was less simple. Wells said that just like her, the feline’s seems to be hungry all the time.
“He was voraciously hungry — I’ve never seen him so hungry in my life,” Wells said. “[I saw him] literally taking a piece of toast from the toaster with his paw and nibbling at the crust — cats do not like bread or carbs in general and my cat especially has never done that in the past.”
The veterinarian confirmed Targa is healthy during their latest check-up, but his new mannerisms related to his hunger are beginning to worry Wells.
“A couple nights ago, I heard a big bang in the kitchen and I got up at 2 a.m. and my cat had somehow found a way to get into the cupboard and had gotten into a pack of turkey jerky trying to gnaw into the plastic — there were puncture marks,” she said. “I’m worried of anyone leaving anything on the counter. If it’s not something he eats and he knocks it down, [it could be] dangerous to my dog, like raisins or chocolate.”
Out of sympathy, Wells said her husband has been sneaking Targa an extra can of food here and there despite her protests.
“If it seems like he’s settling down, it’s just because we’re giving him double the amount,” Wells said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily any better.”
In fact, Saito said that pet owners sneaking scraps off their plate or using treats to show their affection could be adding to the issue.
Instead, she suggested treating pets to quality time, like longer walks or more activity.
“If your pet is not used to being very active, maybe just start by adding a few more blocks to your daily walk, or adding a few more minutes to playtime with your pet,” Saito said.
Bernie Sanders, a 5-year-old Chihuahua-Lhasa Apso mix, was underweight at the time of his rescue but quickly got on the heavy side after a little too much TLC from his owner, Michelle Slater-Young of Portland, Oregon.
“I guess I overcompensated to help him gain weight,” Slater-Young said. “I basically didn’t measure how much food I was giving him. I would just give him half of his bowl or something and he would start gaining weight.”
She said it was harder to engage with her fur baby since Bernie only has three legs. The pup also has plenty of food allergies and skin conditions that caused him to be missing a lot of fur at the time of his adoption.
“I thought he was a lot skinnier than he actually was because he didn’t have fluffy fur to make him look bigger,” Slater-Young said. “I equated love with giving him treats and so I wanted to feed him and give him treats and show him I love him. Instead, I’m showing him love in other ways, like playing with him and taking him for a walk and snuggling him.”
Bernie was just 4 pounds overweight when Slater-Young changed his routine and is now at a healthy 8 pounds.
While patience is key to undoing bad habits, Saito’s biggest advice for pet owners is to start animal companions on a healthy path right from the beginning.
“It’s really about establishing healthy eating from the get-go,” she said. “Getting in the habit [of] playing with them and setting aside that time and making it a priority to have interaction and playtime.”