As 2009 opens a year of promise, we all start pondering our New Year’s resolutions. For many people the top of that list includes weight loss and exercise. While most people could benefit from this resolution, so could most pets.
Obesity occurs in up to 40 percent in our pet dogs and cats and it has many causes, but inactivity is a major contributor.
“Animals require exercise to maintain a healthy weight just as people do,” states J. David Sessum, registered veterinary technician at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “The difference between animals and people is that for the most part it is easier for pets to lose weight because the owner is the one who regulates their diet.”
Pets that have a recommended diet from a veterinary professional usually maintain a healthy weight because they are fed the correct amount of kilocalories in their diet that is suited for their level of activity.
“I do believe that owners play a huge role in helping their pet lose and maintain a healthy weight,” notes Sessum. “How easy would it be for humans to lose weight if we were only given two cups of a reduced calorie diet twice daily?”
Just as owners regulate their pet’s food intake, it is also important that they make sure their animals get enough exercise. “Animals that exercise on a regular basis maintain a healthy body weight due to the fact that they metabolize their food during exercise,” says Sessum. “A sedentary or inactive lifestyle helps promote an unhealthy weight, just as it does in people.”
As our pet’s inactivity increases, their weight increases. Recent research in human and animals have shown that adipose tissue (fat cells) actually functions more as an endocrine organ, like your pancreas.
Adipose tissue actually releases inflammatory mediators that can make diseases like osteoarthritis much worse for obese patients.
“In the clinic, you can see dogs that may have orthopedic diseases such as hip dysplasia (a joint malformation) but are only diagnosed as incidental findings on radiographs.
Because the dog is a healthy weight and remains active, the owner never even noticed a change in the dog’s level of activity,” explains Sessum. “As far as osteoarthritis and existing orthopedic conditions are concerned, an obese patient places extra strain on joints that are already unhealthy and weight loss or management can help reduce the load placed on diseased, painful joints.”
Exercise is important for all pets, but if you aren’t sure what level of exercise your pet requires a veterinarian or veterinary professional can assess your animal’s weight status by using a body condition score.
“Once a pet’s body condition is scored, it is a helpful tool in developing an exercise program for pets,” notes Sessum. “A pet with a healthy body condition score can maintain their normal daily activity and amount of food they currently receive.” As a pet ages, its body condition score can be assessed and the amount of exercise and amount of food can be regulated to help ensure a healthy body weight.
“Exercises to maintain a healthy weight for dogs can include regular leash walks and normal activity such as fetching or swimming,” states Sessum. “All of these activities can be done with the owner so helping your pet get exercise can also help you.”
For dogs that are obese, exercise is usually not tolerated very well due to their previous level of inactivity. These patients must be monitored at all times during exercise for signs of fatigue or distress, especially during summer months when extreme temperatures are encountered.
“Other exercises that owners can do with their pets include anything that will help with strengthening and improving cardiovascular fitness,” explains Sessum. “Walks up hills or inclines, stepping over obstacles or walking through tall grass to increase range of motion in joints will all help to reduce obesity and maintain a healthy weight in both pets and humans.”
It is important to remember that rest and recovery is as important sometimes as the exercise themselves to help prevent soreness and excess fatigue.
“It is also necessary to avoid the “weekend warrior” mentality. Pets that have a sedentary lifestyle will not respond to exercise well if they are suddenly introduced into a strenuous workout program,” concludes Sessum. “Just like people, if we lie around on the couch all week, and then try to run a marathon, it could lead to serious health problems.
Our pets’ exercise regimen should be introduced in the same manner we would approach a new exercise program, including a visit to the doctor!”
By following these guidelines and sticking to these resolutions both you and your pet can have a healthy and prosperous new year.
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Angela G. Clendenin ’91, MASCL Director of Communications and Public Relations College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University (979) 862-2675 firstname.lastname@example.org