If there is one thing that is beyond doubt about America it's that it loves its pets. Around 190 million Americans have at least one pet and with many having more, it's probably safe to say pets outnumber people. But becoming part of the family means sharing the joint health regime — if the family overeats, the pet probably does, too. A joint meeting of two of the largest animal science organizations has looked at the way we feed our furry friends.
This year's annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) held a symposium on companion animals called "Bioenergetics of pet food" that looked at the implications of over- or inaccurately feeding cats and dogs. One of the key issues was the fact that, for both Americans and their pets, the commonest form of malnutrition comes from overconsumption not under-consumption of food. This can lead to the same problems in animals that it does in humans: diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cancer.
Owners clearly have a duty to their pets to keep them happy, healthy and safe. Dr. Kelly Swanson, Professor of Animal and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, says the first step in combating pet obesity is simply realizing that an animal is overweight. "Owners need to actually recognize that their pet is obese, and is not just a funny, pudgy animal that looks cute," she says. "Lean, healthy pets not only live longer, but more importantly, have a better quality of life."
The benefits of cultivating a healthy weight are certainly borne out by the data. Lifelong studies show how maintaining a low body condition score adds an average of 1.8 years to dogs' lives. The responsibility, the researchers say, lies with the owner. Preserving healthy body conditions requires pet owners to not just read pet food labels, but to actually understand the nutritional information and accurately follow the feeding directions.
In addition, for those with multiple pets, it's important to realize that each animal has his or her own specific needs which depend on factors like age, size and general health conditions. Dr. Dennis Jewell, Research Scientist at Hill's Pet Nutrition, emphasizes the importance of a feeding program that suits each individual. "Each pet," he says, "has unique genetics that determine, for example, if they're going to use more calories to maintain their body weight than other animals."
Keeping your pet healthy and looking good is a game of two halves. As with humans, clearly both diet and exercise are necessary to maintain not just a healthy weight but a robust constitution. Whatever pet you have, make sure you keep up a good exercise routine — remember, it can be good for you too! Try to maintain a regular routine that they can learn to rely on so they know exactly when it's time to eat and when it's time to be outside. Nothing is more frustrating for your pet than not knowing when his or her next meal or "outside time" will be.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese — which is why they are designating October 7 2015 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. Why not get a jump on the date by taking a good look at your pets and their food and exercise routine to see if you can make improvements in them? WebMD has some great tips for keeping both your cat and your dog healthy. Remember — you're in this together: what's good for them is what's good for you as well.