Seniors and pets go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like soup and sandwich. Like horse and carriage. But just like that horse needs to stay lean and fit to pull the carriage, your pet needs to stay fit to remain healthy.
More than 50 percent of the cats and dogs in the U.S. are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. (Thus the need to such an association, I guess.) And even more alarming? A surprising 90 percent of their owners don’t even realize it.
As we all know, it’s easy to let those extra pounds creep up on you. We see it in ourselves — or at least we see it after we’ve packed on an extra 25 pounds. But just like on our own bodies, we look in the mirror — or at our pets — and don’t notice the difference from day to day. Then all of a sudden six months have gone by and we wonder why our pants don’t fit – or why the cat can no longer jump up on the counter. In both cases, it’s best to nip that weight gain in the bud before it even starts.
You’ve probably heard the expression “fat cat.” It generally refers to someone who has everything they want. Which leads us to another popular expression — “fat and happy,” or someone who is contented. It stands to reason that most fat cats are also fat and happy. But not if they’re the four-legged feline variety. Those cats should never be fat. And neither should our dogs.
Just like when you go to your doctor and he tells you to lose a few pounds or you might have a heart attack, you tend to shrug it off until he tell you that if you don’t lose 20 pounds in the next few months, you’re sure to have a fatal heart attack, it’s our natural inclination to resent it or to ignore it when the vet tells us our pet needs to lose weight. Which is why, until recently, most vets didn’t even bother to broach the subject.
To many pet owners, our dogs and cats are our children. Our babies. Giving them treats and table scraps is a sign of affection – our way of showing our furry friends that we love them to death. But hastening their death might be exactly what we’re doing when we feed them these tasty temptations.
A senior friend of mine has a cat named Mr. Right. He is very well-loved. And it shows. It began very innocently when Mr. Right was still a kitten. While adjusting to his new home, he was a bit shy and she learned that if she shook the treat bag, he would come. Out of hiding, that is. So she shook the treat bag pretty often. Now at the ripe old age of four, he is more round than he is long. The good news is that she can leave anything out on the counter these days because Mr. Right would never be able to propel his feline body that high into the air. The bad news? If he doesn’t start losing weight, his “happy” life will be a short one.
Lack of exercise is another contributor to pet obesity – usually combined with excess food. The calories are adding up but aren’t getting burned off. That’s a tough one when it comes to cats because we don’t think of them as getting much exercise anyway. But remember that the heavier they are, the less they’ll be tempted – and able – to run and jump and play.
Dogs, of course, can be walked. As well they should be. Cute though it may look in the movies, it’s not a good idea to buy a pup with the idea that she’ll travel from place to place in your handbag. Dogs have four legs for a reason – to use them for walking. Plan to walk them at least once each day (it’s good for you, too!). Take them to the dog park. Throw the ball or the Frisbee for them to retrieve. Sign them up for doggy day care.
One of my former co-workers had another well-loved pet – a chocolate lab. As he got older he resembled a walking sausage. He waddled everywhere he went (which wasn’t very far). Then one day he tore his ACL and that was the beginning of the end. His health wasn’t good enough to survive surgery. And his weight put too much strain on the ligament for it to heal naturally. His owners were forced to make the heart-wrenching decision to put him to sleep.
So what can you do to prevent these “tails” of woe from affecting your pet?
- Get physical. Take your dog or cat to the vet for an annual check-up. They routinely weigh their patients and can let you know right away if there’s any cause for concern – before it’s too late.
- Good eats. If they are a little heavier than they should be for their size and breed, ask your vet about light dog food or cutting back the serving size. A word of warning, though. When we put our golden retriever on light food, she was still hungry after eating. She decided to make up for the decreased calories by counter-surfing. Keep anything edible in a cupboard or out of reach!
- Signs of affection. Table scraps are a no-no. But treats are okay in moderation. Just don’t give them all day long every day. Reward your pet with love instead of food – a belly rub, pets, or soothing words are often just as good. And when you do offer a treat, consider breaking them in half. To your pet, a treat is a reward for good behavior or a symbol of your love. Contrary to what you might think, size does not matter.
- Read labels. Check the dog food and treats you are about to buy. What are the ingredients? What are the calories?
- Too much of a good thing. Ask your vet or read the label to see what an appropriate serving size is. How many times a day should they get this amount? And be sure to measure – don’t guess.
- Exercise. Pets rely on us for their exercise, but unlike us, they can’t do it alone. If you can’t take your dog for a daily walk, consider hiring a dog walker or a responsible neighborhood pre-teen or high-schooler to do the job. Cats will burn off calories with a little extra playtime each day. And who doesn’t like watching their cat chase a laser pointer or mechanical mouse around the room?
In case you think that concerns such as these are only for seniors living in their own home, you’ll be pleased to know that a move to Discovery Village Senior Living Community does not mean that you have to leave your pet behind. Recognizing the many benefits that seniors get from owning a pet, Discovery Village allows – and even encourages — pets to move in right along with their owners.
Discovery Village At The Forum offers a variety of senior living programs to keep seniors healthy and active. Learn about our senior living options and amenities today when you contact us at 239.230.3436.