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The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over a third of America's pets are overweight. People often think that an obese animal is not in physical danger, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just like with humans, too much weight can cause serious health problems. It leads to diabetes, heart disease, joint, bone and ligament damage, high blood pressure, intolerance to heat and more.
Remember, unlike humans, cats only eat what they are given. If a cat is overweight, it's more than likely because their owners made them that way. Biscuits and other treats can be high in calories, so be careful when including them in your pet's overall caloric intake. It's important to read the nutritional labels on foods, treats and snacks as well - just as you would your own. All too often, your pet's snacks can contain toxic chemicals and preservatives and don't include quality ingredients that promote good health. Try choosing smaller snacks - even with large pets - they won't know the difference. Also consider providing healthy snacks that are less fattening and more nutritional.
Cats don't normally have a portion control problem, but cats that have automatic food dispensers should be monitored to make sure they are not taking the lion's share. Playing with your cat is beneficial on many levels: it keeps them at a healthy weight, strengthens the owner-pet bond, sharpens your cat's instinctive hunting skills, gives them an outlet for aggression, even enabling a shy cat to gain confidence. It's time for owners to "step up to the plate" and discipline ourselves to make the right food choices for our pets, as we discipline them to eat right and exercise.
The signs of obesity in cats are easy to see once you know what to look for. Make sure that their ribs are easily felt but not visibly protruding. Look at his tummy. If it's hanging down between his legs, it is a good indication that he is overweight. Your cat should be sporting an hourglass - not an apron (a big belly on a cat is called an apron). Some cats are so big their stomachs actually graze the ground. And though this may help dust your hardwood floors, it's no laughing matter and should be taken seriously - no matter how cute they look all fattened up.
Cats tend to become overweight in their middle-aged years because they get less active. Be diligent in watching your pet's diet and getting him plenty of exercise. It's a simple and consistent fact: all mammals that take in more calories than they burn off will gain weight.
So, what should you do if you think your pet has a weight problem? First, schedule a physical for your pet with your local vet. Prior to your visit, keep a log of his dietary and exercise habits. Write down the amount and type of food your pet consumes each day, the time of day they consume it, how much daily exercise your animal receives (and this should include the type of exercise plus the duration), and any other physical problems you may have noticed.
Don't forget that cats need their exercise too. Although they seem like they would rather be left alone, they can often be convinced to chase a piece of ribbon or to play with their toys. Keep their toys in rotation to prevent boredom. You may want to try a little catnip, too. It's not harmful to cats and it can really get them moving. Just make sure it's in a container and not loose. It's the sniffing of the catnip that stimulates them. If ingested, it will act like a sedative instead. Spend some active time with them, and be consistent. They will actually look forward to playtime. Watching television with your pet isn't the only way to bond.
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