PhotoYou can’t really go into a grocery store anymore without seeing a magazine rack full of covers with weight loss tips on them. There is a good reason for this though: more than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese, and this fact may be translating to our pets; an estimated 57.9% of U.S. pet dogs and cats are overweight or obese as well.

Perhaps we, as loving pet owners, need to start thinking about what, and how much, we are feeding our animals. During this year’s American Dairy Science Association & American Society of Animal Science (ADSA-ASAS) meeting, five pet nutrition experts explained how not properly controlling portion size, or choosing wrong foods, can affect our cats and dogs.

Matching energy use with food intake

In short, they said that obesity occurs in pets when the amount of energy they use does not match how much food they are taking in. Scientists in the field of bioenergetics, which specifically deals with the correlation between food intake and energy use, have been looking into this problem in relation to pets.

Dr. Kelly Swanson, who is a professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois, says that the first step to getting your pet to be healthier is recognizing that they are obese. Oftentimes, owners will think that their animal is just “chubby”, and that it isn’t a big deal. However, being obese will inevitably lead your pet to a shorter lifespan.

“Lean, healthy pets not only live longer, but more importantly, have a better quality of life,” said Swanson.

Unique nutrition plans 

Making sure that your pet eats the right kinds of food can be a completely different challenge. Dr. Dennis Jewell, who is a research scientist at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, believes that owners need to change their pet’s diet to account for a variety of factors.

“Each pet has unique genetics that determine, for example, if they’re going to use more calories to maintain their body weight than other animals,” he said. “We can design feeding programs for specific pet populations – based on factors like age, size, et cetera – but feeding regimens still come down to the individual pet.”

Regardless of the diet your pet is on, there are always certain substances that will need to be incorporated. Dr. Katherine Kerr, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Florida, believes that natural foods that provide nutrients, like fiber and protein, play an important role in health maintenance, disease prevention, and obesity in domesticated pets.

Although researchers will continue to strive to figure out the best nutrition regiment, you do not have to rely on their answers for your pet to be healthy. Doing something simple, such as laying off the dog treats after a certain time or making a more regulated feeding schedule, can go a long way towards preventing obesity in your pet. 

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