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Fatter cats dogs are sizeable problem

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Posted 9/9/2003 6:03 PM Updated 9/9/2003 6:03 PM
Fatter cats and dogs are a sizable problem
By Kathleen Fackelmann USA TODAY

At least 25% of dogs and cats in the Western world, including the USA, are obese and need to lose weight, a report out today says. Obese dogs and cats run the same health risks that people do: They can develop diabetes, heart disease and other ailments that can lead to premature death, says the report by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council.

In the 500-page report, released Monday, a team of experts makes dietary recommendations on how to keep dogs and cats healthy.

"The No. 1 nutritional problem for dogs and cats is too much food," says David Dzanis, a pet nutrition consultant.

The pet report, the first of its kind since the 1980s, draws attention to an obesity problem that has become an ever greater health threat for people: An estimated 65% of Americans are overweight or obese.

No one knows whether overweight owners have bad food habits regarding their pets, such as feeding them scraps of fast-food fare, which can be high in fat. But it is clear that many owners cater to pets, feeding them from the table or giving them lots of snacks.

"I've never yet met the dog or cat that can open the pantry door," says Bruce Little, the executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association in Schaumburg, Ill. In most cases, he says, it's best to feed cats or dogs the recommended amount of commercial pet food, which contains the right balance of fat, carbohydrates and protein.

Cats that look too fat probably are overweight, the report says. Fat deposits on the face, arms or legs and tummy are clear signs of obesity.

A quick check for body weight in dogs: If you can't feel the ribs, the dog is too fat.

Owners of a fat cat or dog should go to a vet to rule out another medical problem, Dzanis says.

But if Fido simply eats too much, owners might want to check the feeding instructions on the package of pet food, says Stephen Payne, a spokesman for the Pet Food Institute, which helped fund the report. Many owners dump food in a bowl and don't realize they're overfeeding a pet, he says.

To help a dog lose weight, owners can give smaller amounts of food at regular feeding times or consider switching to low-calorie pet food.

Chubby dogs might benefit from regular exercise, Dzanis adds. But check with a vet first: "You don't want to take a dog with a heart problem out for a 2-mile run."

If your cat looks like Garfield, the popular but rotund comic cat, it's time for less food or low-calorie fare. But even fat cats should always have access to a bowl of food, the report says. Cats can eat up to 20 times a day: That's OK, as long as they don't eat too much.

The National Academy of Sciences' report on dog and cat nutrition offers tips on how to keep Fido or Fluffy in tip-top shape.

•Active dogs that weigh 35 pounds should consume about 1,000 kilocalories (units typically found on pet-food labels) per day.

•Cats that weigh 10 pounds should eat about 275 kilocalories.

•Dogs are descended from omnivores and can thrive on both meat- and vegetable-based diets.

•Cats are descended from carnivores and do not do well on a vegetarian diet.

•Both dogs and cats need fresh water every day, but cats need less.

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