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Obesity is our furry friend’s number one health threat.

Today’s dogs and cats are living longer than ever before. Unfortunately, they’re also heavier than ever and have more chronic diseases. The good news is that many companion illnesses can be prevented. The bad news is that once your furry friend develops one of these long-term conditions such as arthritis or diabetes, there’s often no cure. When it comes to preventing disease and helping your companion live a long, healthy, pain-free life, what and how much you feed is very important. Trouble is, we’re feeding too much. Way too much.

Over 55% of all US dogs and cats are estimated to be overweight or obese according to the latest study from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Flabby felines and portly pooches are the new normal. Heavier companions are prone to a torrent of weight-related disorders. If your furry friend needs to shed a few pounds, consider these serious consequences of obesity as you’re looking for motivation.

Decreased Life Expectancy
Less is more when it comes to feeding companions and living longer. Eating less has been proven to extend life expectancy and reduce suffering in species as diverse as worms, spiders, water fleas, fruit flies, fish, hamsters, mice, rats, dogs, and monkeys. In a 1999 longevity study conducted on dogs, researchers found dogs fed 25% fewer calories than normal lived an average of two years longer. Even more exciting was that the dogs fed a little less food had a lot fewer medical problems. The study dogs also required fewer medications and remained more active well into “old age.” If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth for your companions, it’s right there in the food bowl.

The number one medical condition associated with excess weight is osteoarthritis (OA). Both large and small breeds of dogs are typically affected, but cats are developing crippling arthritis at alarming rates. A March 2011 study concluded that the majority of cats (61%) had radiographic evidence of OA.

Interestingly, few owners recognized the signs of arthritis, leading the study authors to strongly advise radiographs in older cats, especially those demonstrating inappropriate elimination or household “accidents.”  If your companion is carrying as little as one or two extra pounds, remember those pounds are stressing tiny joints not designed to carry extra weight. Making matters worse, fat cells produce harmful chemicals known as adipocytokines that damage even non-weight bearing joints. There is no cure for arthritis; we can only minimize the pain.

Veterinarians are increasingly diagnosing overweight cats with diabetes. Similar to humans, chubby cats are at tremendous risk of developing high blood sugar and diabetes requiring twice daily insulin injections. Obese dogs are more prone to a condition known as insulin resistance, a state in which they have dangerously high insulin and blood sugar levels. Both diabetes and insulin resistance have been shown to reduce a companion’s life expectancy in addition to requiring constant medication and treatment. Diabetes is largely prevented by simply feeding the amount of food to maintain a normal weight. What could be easier?

Excess fat has been implicated in the formation of many cancers in animals. The National Cancer Institute estimates that obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25% to 30% of the major cancers in humans: colon, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, endometrial, kidney, and cancer of the esophagus. New research points to obesity-related insulin resistance as a likely cause. While we don’t have as many dog and cat research studies to draw upon, the consensus is that excess weight increases a companion’s risk of developing many types of cancer. Reduce the weight to reduce the risk.

The trouble with being plump isn’t simply vanity; excess weight causes or worsens many serious medical conditions in our furry friends. Our animal companions depend on us to make good choices for them. Make sure you’re feeding your companion based on sound nutritional advice from your Veterinarian and not due to clever marketing or price. Talk to your vet about specific strategies to keep your furry friend at a healthy weight. Your companions will be happier, have fewer medical problems, and you’ll enjoy more years together.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your companions.

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