Smart Nutrition for Pet Owners

We've asked a veterinary expert's opinion to help pet owners make smart nutrition choices for their dogs and cats.

| October/November 1998

Like their owners, pets depend on a balanced diet for their general health and well-being. But these days, with store shelves brimming with dog and cat foods specially formulated for every size, shape, and age, figuring out what's best for your pet can be daunting. To help you sort out what's healthful and what's hype, MOTHER EARTH NEWS sought out small animal veterinarian and emergency-clinic owner Dr. Andrew Martin to get his advice on smart nutrition for pet owners.

MOTHER: What is the most common nutrition-related problem that you encounter in your practice?

Dr. Andrew Martin: Obesity. Most household pets are, like most Americans, overweight. And the things that contribute to added weight in people are usually responsible for the same problem in their pets: snacking and insufficient activity. Very rarely do we see a pet with a gland problem causing increased weight.

MOTHER: Is there a good way to judge if a pet is overweight?

A.M.: In every household pet, we should be able to easily feel the rib cage — not just know that there are ribs there. In deep-chested breeds of dogs, such as greyhounds, German shepherds, and setters, we should also be able to see the individual ribs. In cats, the main site of fat accumulation is the underbelly, which should never get to the point where it sways as the cat walks. In either case, the flatter the back of the animal gets, the closer to true obesity the pet is approaching.

MOTHER: What health risks are associated with pet obesity?

A.M.: The major health risks attributable to excess weight in pets are the same as those seen in people: heart disease and arthritis. The leading causes of death in larger dogs are heart failure and euthanasia due to arthritic pain. In overweight cats, there is also a very severe liver disease that is quite common and often fatal.

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