Chubby pets need special diet, vets say

Monday, February 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:18 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

People aren’t the only ones who can be fat; their pets can, too.

And it’s up to the owners to do something about it, says a pet-weight expert at MU.

Many factors contribute to plump pets. Robert Backus, an assistant professor and director of the Nestle Purina Endowed Small Animal Nutrition Program at MU, said tasty diets, as well as neutering and spaying, affect a pet’s weight.

“In general, in both dogs and cats, when they are neutered or spayed, they can gain 25 percent in body fat weight because they can’t self-regulate body fat,” Backus said.

Veterinary practitioners who have been practicing for 20 to 30 years said they have recently seen many more overweight pets, Backus said.

“About 25 to 40 percent of pets are overweight or obese,” he said.

Pet obesity causes many serious problems such as diabetes; cancer; and joint, ligament, tendon, skin, breathing and heart problems, Backus said. He cited a recent Nestle Purina study that showed that Labrador dogs live two years longer if they are fed a diet at their ideal body condition.

Environmental issues are the most crucial in weight management, but also important is a healthy diet. Owners must limit how much their pets eat, Backus said. Exercise plays a smaller role, he said.

Backus offered tips on helping pets maintain a healthy weight:

  • Start by finding out your pet’s ideal body fat and weight, consulting a veterinarian if needed.
  • Address the problem by considering all environmental factors — for example, making sure to include who feeds the pet and whether it eats table scraps.
  • Do not choose a diet that is energy-dense because it is high in fat. Instead, choose a diet low in fat in which calories are diluted by water or fiber.

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