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As 2009 opens a year of promise, we all start pondering our New
Year's resolutions. For many people the top of that list includes
weight loss and exercise. While most people could benefit from this
resolution, so could most pets.
Obesity occurs in up to 40 percent in our pet dogs and cats and
it has many causes, but inactivity is a major contributor.
"Animals require exercise to maintain a healthy weight just as
people do," states J. David Sessum, registered veterinary
technician at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences at Texas A&M University. "The difference between
animals and people is that for the most part it is easier for pets
to lose weight because the owner is the one who regulates their
Pets that have a recommended diet from a veterinary professional
usually maintain a healthy weight because they are fed the correct
amount of kilocalories in their diet that is suited for their level
"I do believe that owners play a huge role in helping their pet
lose and maintain a healthy weight," notes Sessum. "How easy would
it be for humans to lose weight if we were only given two cups of a
reduced calorie diet twice daily?"
Just as owners regulate their pet's food intake, it is also
important that they make sure their animals get enough
"Animals that exercise on a regular basis maintain a healthy
body weight due to the fact that they metabolize their food during
exercise," says Sessum. "A sedentary or inactive lifestyle helps
promote an unhealthy weight, just as it does in people."
As our pet's inactivity increases, their weight increases.
Recent research in human and animals have shown that adipose tissue
(fat cells) actually functions more as an endocrine organ, like
your pancreas. Adipose tissue actually releases inflammatory
mediators that can make diseases like osteoarthritis much worse for
"In the clinic, you can see dogs that may have orthopedic
diseases such as hip dysplasia (a joint malformation) but are only
diagnosed as incidental findings on radiographs. Because the dog is
a healthy weight and remains active, the owner never even noticed a
change in the dog's level of activity," explains Sessum. "As far as
osteoarthritis and existing orthopedic conditions are concerned, an
obese patient places extra strain on joints that are already
unhealthy and weight loss or management can help reduce the load
placed on diseased, painful joints."
Exercise is important for all pets, but if you aren't sure what
level of exercise your pet requires a veterinarian or veterinary
professional can assess your animal's weight status by using a body
"Once a pet's body condition is scored, it is a helpful tool in
developing an exercise program for pets," notes Sessum. "A pet with
a healthy body condition score can maintain their normal daily
activity and amount of food they currently receive."
As a pet ages, its body condition score can be assessed and the
amount of exercise and amount of food can be regulated to help
ensure a healthy body weight.
"Exercises to maintain a healthy weight for dogs can include
regular leash walks and normal activity such as fetching or
swimming," states Sessum. "All of these activities can be done with
the owner so helping your pet get exercise can also help you."
For dogs that are obese, exercise is usually not tolerated very
well due to their previous level of inactivity. These patients must
be monitored at all times during exercise for signs of fatigue or
distress, especially during summer months when extreme temperatures
"Other exercises that owners can do with their pets include
anything that will help with strengthening and improving
cardiovascular fitness," explains Sessum. "Walks up hills or
inclines, stepping over obstacles or walking through tall grass to
increase range of motion in joints will all help to reduce obesity
and maintain a healthy weight in both pets and humans."
It is important to remember that rest and recovery is as
important sometimes as the exercise themselves to help prevent
soreness and excess fatigue.
"It is also necessary to avoid the "weekend warrior" mentality.
Pets that have a sedentary lifestyle will not respond to exercise
well if they are suddenly introduced into a strenuous workout
program," concludes Sessum. "Just like people, if we lie around on
the couch all week, and then try to run a marathon, it could lead
to serious health problems. Our pets' exercise regimen should be
introduced in the same manner we would approach a new exercise
program, including a visit to the doctor!"
By following these guidelines and sticking to these resolutions
both you and your pet can have a healthy and prosperous new
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
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Angela G. Clendenin
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