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Are we killing our pets with ‘kindness’?

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image While examining Caroline, who was recently rescued from a life on the streets, Dr. Sarah Anne Balaguer and Amanda Diaz, a certified veterinary technician, point out ways to tell if your dog or cat is overweight. Photo Penny Fletcher

Experts say pet obesity is on the rise.

BY PENNY FLETCHER

Some breeds of dogs love to eat more than others. And some dogs always act like they’re hungry.

So we feed them. Not just at mealtimes, but whenever they look hungry.

Maybe it’s just a snack, like a packaged doggie treat or cookie-bone.

But our desire to show them love and attention can be dangerous if it backfires and causes disease.

Cats too are likely to suffer from too much “love.” Since cats tend to be more sedentary than dogs, experts say they also tend to be heavier than is healthy.

“The dog isn’t going to tell you he’s already eaten, he’s going to jump up and down and act like he’s starving when you get home,” said Dr. Geoffrey Gardner at Boyette Animal Hospital in Riverview. “My wife’s an RN, so both of us are very conscious of what we eat and feed our pets. But what was happening is we were both feeding (their dogs). “We’d come home and they’d be shaking. They even shake when they hear you bringing in grocery bags. They have us well trained.”

Their dogs were on a good, balanced diet. Yet they were getting heavier and heavier. What could be happening? The couple could see the fat piling on, and with it the chances for diabetes, arthritis and other diseases that can be brought on or worsened by carrying too much weight.

“We finally realized we were double-feeding,” Gardner said. “We were both feeding them! We solved that by assigning a designated feeder, my wife.”

Recently the Gardner family added another dog, this time a small poodle that had been rescued off the street by Amanda Marcum, a veterinary technician who works with him.

“It’s supposed to be temporary,” said Dr. Sarah Anne Balaguer. “But I’ll bet you’re not looking hard for another home.”

“He’ll end up keeping her,” Balaguer added.

Balaguer said she is almost fanatic about her dog’s weight because almost two-thirds of the dogs and cats she sees in her practice are too heavy, and many of those are morbidly obese.

“I’ll cut their food in half if I have to, change their food, and weigh them every few weeks until their weight gets back under control,” she said.

“There’s a psychological factor to over-feeding,” she said. “People substitute giving treats for love. It’s hard for some pet owners to accept that not giving too many treats is showing their pets love. But touching, talking to, walking, playing, having fun with your pet is so important. If you show love every time with food, what you end up with is a temporarily happy but unhealthy stuffed pet you might not have very long.”

She emphasized that treats should be relative to the size of the dog. “People don’t recognize that a small piece of cheese might be a huge snack for a tiny dog,” she said. “Let’s say you give a small breed a little square of cheese every time he goes potty outside. How many times a day does that happen? Their stomachs are tiny.”

You should be able to see where the ribs are on your dog and he or she should have a place where the “waist” indents.

Obesity is even more acceptable by cat owners than dog owners because cats have a sedentary lifestyle, she added. But they too are in danger of the same types of disease.

Like humans, diet and exercise are important, said Laura Rubin, owner of Adogable Pets in Sun City Center.

About a year ago Rubin opened the shop which is dedicated to a natural and holistic lifestyle for pets from grooming and toys to foods.

“We wash our pets in purified water and use all natural shampoos and conditioners,” she said.

But proper foods, natural to the animal, are most important.

“Cats are carnivores. They should be eating meat, not fillers. You have to check the labels on the cans and bags and use an actual measuring cup to determine how much to feed your pet depending on its size.”

Rubin says she sees a lot of obese pets in her store.

“I’ll ask the owner first if they’ve checked with their vet to be sure they’re (the pet) not diabetic or have any other disease before I check their diet. If it’s a healthy dog or cat, then I ask about their diet. Is what they’re feeding full of filler like wheat or corn?”

Most people leave food down all the time for cats, she said. “That’s fine as long as the cat isn’t obese. Some cats know exactly how much to eat but others don’t. You have to know your pet.”

Rubin said she always welcomes the chance to help pet owners read and understand the labels on the foods they’re using. But before making a drastic change to the pet’s diet or feeding habits, she advises making a trip to the vet to be sure there’s no disease that requires medicine or treatment.

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