Charlotte veterinarians target overweight dogs and obese cats

Charlotte veterinarians target overweight dogs and obese cats

After years watching her dogs gain weight, Patricia Piontek put her briards, 6-year-old Allie and 8-year-old Umberto, on a diet in May when their annual checkup at highly rated Independence Veterinary Clinic in Charlotte found them about 50 and 20 pounds overweight, significant even for the large breed.

The Charlotte veterinarian asked them to participate in its “Project Pet Slim Down” — a “Biggest Loser” style challenge ending this month. The free program includes regular weigh-ins and Purina OM prescription weight-loss food, which costs about $18 to $66 for 6 to 32 pounds.

More than half of U.S. pets qualify as overweight or obese, according to a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. That includes an estimated 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats at risk for a host of health problems. Experts say other pets, such as rabbits, birds or horses, suffer similar risks.

Piontek says she never realized allowing her dogs to open feed contributed to weight gain and put them at risk for potential health problems, such as dog diabetes.

“You can’t blame them for being overweight,” says Piontek, adding the pair began playing more energetically during the challenge.

Dr. Chris Brader, a veterinarian at highly rated Matthews Animal Clinic, identifies diabetes and arthritis as the most common weight-related problems he sees, but pet obesity also causes inflammation, a suppressed immune system, and heart and lung diseases.

“It decreases their life span and will reduce their quality of life,” he says.

It also drives up cost of care for owners of obese dogs and overweight cats. Diabetes treatment for a single overweight pet costs an average of $900 in 2011, with expenses climbing as high as $5,700 in extreme cases, such as those requiring hospitalization, according to claims data from the highly rated pet insurance company Petplan.

To help pets lose weight, Brader suggests trying an over-the-counter light or diet pet food. If that doesn’t work, your Charlotte veterinarian can prescribe food with even fewer calories, such as Hills r/d or Hills w/d.

“The owner needs to know feeding too much food is killing them,” he says.

Dee Simon of Weddington began offering her 16-year-old cat, Miki, canned food at specific mealtimes instead of constant access to dry food, which helped reverse his diabetes. Miki had required two insulin shots daily, which cost about $60 for a six-month supply, on top of about $300 for testing.

Now, he’s off insulin, and Simon hopes to prevent health problems in her other cats. “I’m scared to death of having another diabetic cat,” she says.

Treats and snacking tend to be diet-busters for pets, says Dr. Trish Johnson, veterinarian at highly rated Compassionate Care Veterinary Hospital of Charlotte.

She suggests feeding pets only at mealtimes and using a measuring cup to dole out the amount recommended by your veterinarian to avoid pets gaining weight. Try treats like ice cubes or carrots and combine that with exercise and play time.

“There’s no pill to make weight go away,” she says. “They have to use diet and exercise.”

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Dr.Carey Wasem sees a number of obese pets, including Smokey, a 14-year-old cat and Mojave, an 11-year-old yellow lab.

Like their human counterparts, veterinarians say obese dogs, cats and other pets risk a shortened life expectancy — but common sense nutrition and exercise are keys to good health.

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