Fat cats & pound puppies

Sunday, February 26, 2006
America's obesity epidemic has spread to pets. (Photo illustration by Diane L. Wilson)

Dr. Sean Byrd's patients have gotten fatter in recent years.

In fact, obesity is the number one health problem he deals with now.

While health professionals across the country lament an epidemic of overweight humans, Byrd's practice is concerned with man's best friends.

"The same rules that apply to humans apply to dogs and cats," said Byrd, a veterinarian at Skyview Animal Hospital in Cape Girardeau. "We have a tendency to want to feed dogs and cats more treats, and they're becoming more couch-potato types."

A report issued this month by the National Academy of Sciences found that one out of every four dogs and cats is now obese.

Byrd said he sees at least that rate among canines in his practice, and higher among felines.

"There's the trend with human obesity and pet obesity is following right behind," said Byrd.

And just like in humans, being overweight can mean additional health complications for animals.

The study from the National Academy of Sciences found that obese pets had a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and joint and hip difficulties.

There are also risks of liver and kidney disease in cats and arthritis in dogs.

"It's a big problem, but one that can be prevented," said Dr. Karen Fieser, a veterinarian at Cape Small Animal Clinic.

Fieser and Byrd both recommend that pet owners spend time exercising their animals. Limiting their diet may also be necessary.

"Probably the number one thing is people feeding people food to their pets," said Fieser. "It's like candy to them."

Byrd said has read the studies that showed exercising with your pet can be more beneficial to both of you than exercising alone.

"The success rate was a lot higher when owners and pets exercised together," said Byrd.

Plus, dogs are fairly easy to exercise, said Byrd.

Just throw a ball or take Fido for a walk. Cats may require a bit more interaction, like rolling a ball, dragging a string toy or playing with a laser light.

There are also special diets for animals. Byrd suggests looking for pet food with phrases like weight management, obesity control and light.


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