Far too many of us struggle with weight issues. Our modern life of drive through convenience and daily routines that are far from routine leave us eating a far different diet than that of our ancestors. The last hundred years has seen a huge change in our lives, and in our health.
How does this relate to our pets? Well, the same thing that has our society seeing epidemic rates of obesity is reflected in our pets diets, and consequently, we are seeing an epidemic of weight issues in our pets, and the related health issues.
A recent clinical survey* showed that 56% of dogs and 60% of cats were classified as either overweight or obese. This is a very alarming statistic, and one that many people are taking the effort to address. Like with any problem, however, the first issue is admitting there is a problem, and not just dismissing, that weight issues aren’t important to a pet. How many internet memes are based on a fat dog or a lazy cat. We have, unfortunately, normalized the issue.
Diet and exercise, like with us, are the cornerstones of maintaining a proper weight in our pets. We control both these issues, and our pets rely on us to make healthy decisions on their behalf.
The marketplace has responded with a number of initiatives, touting their “healthier options”, hanging claims on “grain free” or “meat first” as an answer to better pet health. Some of the products are improved, some of the initiative are making a difference. But it is up to the consumer to make sure the claims are actually valid, and not just marketing.
“Grain Free” is not primarily an endorsement of a product. It is a great start, but when you remove grains, you have to replace them with something. Grains create two issues, one is allergies, the other is glycemic index. Using a grain free food to reduce or prevent allergies is a great option to have, but if you are using it to give your pet a healthier, more species appropriate diet, then you have to consider if that is the actual case.
Grains serve a purpose in pet foods of being a low cost and shelf stable source of both protein and energy. While dogs and cats have no metabolic requirement for carbohydrates, they can utilize them for energy. Fats, the energy source their bodies were designed for, are very difficult to prevent from going rancid rapidly if not kept frozen. So, as a matter of convenience, carbohydrates have replaced fats in our pets diets.
As we know from our own diets, there are bad carbs, and there are less bad carbs. In buying a more appropriate pet food, it is important to look at what carbs are used, and how much of the diet they make up. For instance, potatoes are not grains, but as a carb, they are just as bad for our pets.
Meat first is a claim many marketing companies trumpet from on high, but it can be very misleading. Our immediate assumption of “meat first” is “mostly meat”. Very few of the companies that make that first claim could say the second one. Some do, and they are worth searching out.
Calories do make a difference, sure. Buying a calorie reduced / weight reduction formula can help, but so can just reducing the food amount. Reducing the calories in a food bowl alone does not ensure weight loss. Making those calories more appropriate for what the pet’s body needs, and changing the food intake that happens outside the bowl can have much larger effect. Cutting the food intake by 20% and then giving the pet treats because you feel bad, or think they are starving isn’t going to have the desired result. Especially if the treats are full of inappropriate ingredients.
We’re not going to solve pet obesity in a single column, but raising questions is never a bad thing. Lets start the conversation, and make our pets lives, and our own, better.