Monday, April 13, 2009

Pet obesity - a pet owners' problem

Reading the Veterinary Practice News the I came across the following article written by Jessica Tremayne, titled “Pet Obesity – A Huge Problem”. While I kind of agree with her, I look at the problem a little different and, be forewarned, not quite as polite and forgiving as she did. But let’s first see what she had to say:
“Two-thirds of clients say nothing about their overweight pet unless the veterinarian speaks first, experts say. Initiating the conversation is the first obstacle that veterinarians face when helping patients reduce weight.
The U.S. has the fattest pets in the world, and the social and psychological pressure to ignore weight problems is huge.
A February 2009 report from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shows that more than 44 percent of dogs and 57 percent of cats are overweight or obese. The figures represent an increase of 1 percentage point in dogs and 4 percentage points in cats compared with a 2007 study.
“Pet obesity continues to emerge as a leading cause of preventable disease and death in dogs and cats,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, the association’s founder and chief-of-staff. “Pets are in real danger of not living as long as previous generations and developing serious and costly diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and other largely avoidable conditions.
“We are afraid to offend our clients or make them feel uncomfortable about their own weight if we discuss their overweight pet, but staying quiet is risking the patients health.”
One tactic is to use the body assessment rating for canines (BARC) or another scoring scale, experts say. This takes the focus away from the fat and onto the medical condition.
“You wouldn’t avoid discussing a diabetic cat’s condition with a diabetic pet owner, so don’t avoid the weight issue with owners that may have the same problem,” says Dottie LaFlamme, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, of Nestle Purina PetCare Co. “Give the owner something to work off of. Use a scale of 1 to 9 or 1 to 5 so they have an opportunity to realize the severity of the problem. The biggest problem is getting the owner to accept their pet is in fact overweight.”
Owner excuses for overweight pets include a misperception of the amount eaten daily, stories of constant hunger, passing blame onto others, disinterest in exercise and thoughts of complacency with being “fat and happy.”
“You have to write clients a prescription for weight loss or else they will forget everything you talked about in the exam room when they walk out your door,” says Veterinary Practice News columnist Patty Khuly, VMD, founder of the veterinary blog “You want to tell clients, ‘This dog is fat and you are going to kill her,’ but you really have to approach it on an individual client basis–know what they can and can’t handle. Tread lightly and get past the fat and talk strictly about the weight, even though some clients need to be hit over the head with the shocking facts.”
Some experts suggest giving clients a free measuring scoop provided by a pet food manufacturer. Many clients want to be told what to do step by step, often the only way to help them manage their pet’s weight loss.
“We come from a food is love society and getting pets to lose weight or stay at a good weight means breaking habits,” says Dr. Khuly, who practices at Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami. “Calories really should be listed on the side of all dog food bags since many owners are accustomed to counting calories for themselves, but unfortunately, most manufacturers do not have that information listed.
“The amount designated on the side of the animals’ food bags calls for more than needed as well. The only way pets would burn off those calories is if they were athletes. Society is working against successful weight loss because owners with trim dogs are often looked at as if they are starving their pets.”
By the NumbersThe Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found feline obesity rates of 17.8 percent, or 15.7 million animals, and an additional 35 million overweight cats. Dogs did better, with 9.6 percent, or 7.2 million, classified as obese and 26 million considered overweight.
“These numbers, 33 million dogs and 51 million cats that are overweight, represent a huge problem for everyone,” says Dr. Ward, who practices at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “Excess weight causes or contributes to many painful and debilitating conditions. Just as we’ve become a nation of couch potatoes, our pets have become a nation of lap potatoes, and that’s not good for anyone.”
Older animals had a higher incidence of being overweight: 52 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats older than age 7.
“This is a particularly concerning discovery for veterinarians,” Ward says. “Extra pounds in older pets amplify any pre-existing conditions and complicate treatment. We’re seeing more and more diabetes, respiratory and arthritic conditions in older pets as a direct result of obesity. These are often chronic, incurable and generally preventable diseases. Pet owners need to understand that a few extra pounds on a dog or cat is similar to a person being 30 to 50 pounds overweight.”
Veterinarians need to recommend solutions beyond just prescribing diet food, experts say.
Click here for information that can be passed to owners in tactful ways. The website shows safe and correct ways to cut calories and how to exercise a dog. It also discusses praising a dog with affection as opposed to confection, which puts on unneeded calories.
“Clients tend to never get their pets into aerobic exercise. They simply walk them, which isn’t very effective,” Ward says. “Veterinarians need to help clients get their pet back to a healthy weight and not by simply saying the animal needs to eat less and exercise more. We’ve gone down that road and it’s about as effective for animals as it is people.”
Suggestions“Giving clients a list of treats you are comfortable with is a good start,” Ward says. “You must give specific examples of treats and a number to give at once.”
Other tips include individualizing weight-loss plans. If Plan A isn’t working after three months, try something different to adjust to each patient’s unique needs. Tell the client what excess weight does to a pet’s body.
“New research shows that fat tissue is biologically active,” Ward says. “Scores of hormones are produced by this tissue and that affects the heart, brain, liver, pancreas and entire endocrine system.”
Prevention is the best approach, which means discussing proper nutrition and exercise when the animal is young. Considering that many animals are considered adults at 1 year old, they shouldn’t put on many more pounds at that point.
“Animals aren’t babies as owners often view them,” Ward says. “Just like in people, you should weigh the same as you did when you were 18 or 19 – when you stopped growing.”
Getting the clinic staff involved is a great tactic. Employees who use recommended weight-loss techniques on their pets can discuss the obstacles and accomplishments with clients.
“When the staff is on board, they can sincerely attest to clients the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight for pets,” Ward says. “It can be as simple as figuring the calories in food. You can help you clients calculate the proper amount of food for their pets based on the type of food and animal’s size.”
Medicine and ResourcesPfizer Inc.’s Slentrol, as well as other emerging and developing drugs, can be used after more traditional methods have been explored, Ward says.
“I am all for anything that helps fight obesity,” he says. “There are some weight-loss drugs that will hopefully be getting Food and Drug Administration approval soon. With 50 percent of animals having a weight problem, action must be taken. These are big numbers and they hold up across the board. It’s really frightening.” “
Great job, Jessica. Now my opinion on the subject matter:
First I like the idea that the article clearly shows who is to blame for the problem: Sorry, but yes it’s you, the owner of the obese cat or dog. This time it’s not a pet food manufacturer or the entire pet food industry. Whether they make good or not so good food, they tell you how much you have to feed, all you have to do is follow their instructions. It’s not your pet. If your pet wants to eat all day long, simply don’t let it happen. You are in control. Jessica says, I should follow the expert’s advice of being tactful about telling you the truth? What is so tactful on your part, you are killing your pet. Now what does that have to do with love? This reminds me of the show I followed the other night on TV where they talked about this 685 lbs person and the entire family keeps providing junk food by the truckload every day in and out. They love this family member? I am sorry, but I can’t help it: I cannot see any love in the idea that they are killing a loved one.
Jessica says: “The U.S. has the fattest pets in the world, and the social and psychological pressure to ignore weight problems is huge.” Don’t we also have the same problem with our humans? Is that where the problem originates? Because we don’t care too much about ourselves, we don’t have to care too much about others, including our pets?
“Owner excuses for overweight pets include a misperception of the amount eaten daily, stories of constant hunger, passing blame onto others, disinterest in exercise and thoughts of complacency with being “fat and happy.””
Misperception of amount eaten daily? What’s to misunderstand here? Feeding instructions are very clear. If the instructions say feed 2 cups then simply do that and don’t think you have to override the manufacturer’s instructions because to you it looks like it’s not enough. Unfortunately some of our animals can’t tell by themselves when they have enough. They will eat whatever and as much as you put in front of them. Let me remind you, on top of it you have to consider that most feeding instructions are already on the upper limit. By providing even more you are not just wasting your money (the animal will only utilize what it’s body requires, everything above and beyond that kind of “blows” straight through the system without any beneficial utilization), you also are paving the road to disease and early death.
Granted, and this part I do understand, it happens often when pet owners switch from a low grade to a higher quality food. All the sudden they have to feed less because there is a higher nutritional utilization in the pet’s body taking place. Then these owners often wonder, “… but is that enough?” You bet it is. And listen to me and the manufacturers. Don’t think we don’t know what we are talking about and you know better. My goal is to keep your pet alive and disease free for the longest possible time, that’s the only way I can make money off you and your pet. So why would I recommend a feeding strategy accomplishing quite the opposite? Think about it.
Quit feeding unhealthy table scraps on top of the regular food rations. The portion your pet got is enough for a certain period of time, it does not need any more food. Period. It is as simple as that. You may think you do your cat or dog a favor, you don’t, you are contributing to a preventable disease.
Also, keep in mind, another problem area are treats. Some pet owners think they have to provide treats on a 24 hour basis. Let me remind you, most of them are calories too. A treat should be a reward for doing something right and good. Or a treat can be given to keep an animal busy and occupied. It should not be a habit and for sure not part of the feeding plan. Just like you shouldn’t eat too much deserts, chocolate, junk food or whatever you get pleasure out of eating besides your regular meals, neither should your pet. Trust me, a meaty raw bone to chew on is much more appreciated by your pet that any snausages or other junk from the super market. Plus, they are way healthier and don’t pile on those calories.
I don’t quite get where “blame can be passed onto others”. There is only one pet owner, he’s in charge. Period, it is that simple. If the pet like in most cases belongs to a family and it is a matter of every family member feeding the animal, simply put someone in charge and tell everybody to stay away from feeding. Do that by explaining that it will ultimately kill the animal. What’s so difficult about that?
What happened to our common sense? Does that no longer exist for most of us? Like Dr. Ward says in the article: “it’s a preventable disease.” To prevent it is the pet owners job.
Owning a pet comes with responsibilities. Keeping the pet at regular weight is one of them. Can’t exercise the animal because you have no time or are simply too lazy to walk the dog? Make sure you have someone else take care of the walking. Can’t afford it? Don’t have a pet. I am sorry, but to me it is that simple. By the way, the money you spend on a dog walker is probably way less than what you end up spending with having your obese pet later on treated at your vet.
And what finally really made me upset about the article is Dr. Ward’s announcement that there are drugs to fight obesity on the horizon. Great, first we mess up, then we come up with a fix. This fix for sure will have a negative impact on the pet’s overall health and well being and guaranteed will be the cause for more problems. Why don’t we do the right thing to begin with?
You know that I am always on the pet owner’s side. Not so in this case. Because pet obesity has absolutely nothing to do with healthy or unhealthy food. This one we can’t blame on the mass marketed pet foods. For this one we have to blame ourselves. Is that why it is so difficult for pet owners to understand? Because they can’t blame nobody else?
Sorry, I didn’t follow Jessica’s advice of being very tactful about it. But I think it is about time that someone speaks the truth and puts the facts on the table. I couldn’t help it but to take Dr. Khuly’s advice very serious: “some clients need to be hit over the head with the shocking facts.” I think Dr. Ward is right: "... staying quiet is risking the patient's health". That is why I was a little more agressive today.

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