Vets also seeing pets gaining weight during the pandemic; here's how to combat it

Dog playing outside
Posted at 5:32 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 06:31:20-04

(WXYZ) — One of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic was being able to spend more time with our loved ones, and that includes our four-legged friends.

But, in addition to just hanging out with the family – we've also been chowing down and packing on pandemic pounds.

Veterinarians have been noticing those chubby puppies and chunky kitties, and even for our pets, the extra weight has real health consequences.

But, it's never too late to make a difference to help your pet live a longer healthier life.

Brad Wigginton said his 5-year-old beagle-cocker spaniel mix, Oliver, starting packing on the pounds as the pandemic kept people inside during the short, dark days of winter.

"The vet said, you know, he looks like he's about 10 pounds overweight. We need to slim him down a little bit," Wigginton said.

It's a challenge facing millions of pets nationwide. Treats and calories are up, while exercise is down.

Dogs, in particular, cats not so much, but dogs are pretty good at getting you to feed them," Dr. Glynes Graham, a vet at the Patterson Dog & Cat Hospital, said.
She has noticed the weight gain among their patients both dogs and cats. And those pounds come with serious health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and arthritis.

"It's hard on their joints. And particularly if you have a breed of dog that's prone to joint issues," Graham said.

Extra weight can make respiratory problems worse for short-nose dogs. A common problem for those fat cats is diabetes. A 2019 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association says overweight dogs have a lifespan up to 2 1/2 years shorter than dogs with a healthy body weight.

So what's a pet parent to do? Increase exercise and decrease calories, right? Sounds simple

Graham says it can be tough to change habits after a year of unlimited calories from food and treats. But consistency is key. And so is exercise.

Probably the single best thing that you can do for your dog is taking it for a regular walk 10 to 15 minutes a day," Canine to Five Owner Liz Blondy said.

Blondy said she sees hundreds of dogs every week at locations in Midtown and Ferndale. She says daily walks are great enrichment, but if you just don't have the time both, Blondy and Graham say doggie daycare can help.

"Taking your dog to a daycare is great because, even just weekly, the dog is going to get exercise, that the dog is going to get stimulation," Blondy said.

As for Brad and Oliver, along with the pup's new low-cal diet, the pair goes on daily two-mile walks, and it's working. Oliver is down around five pounds, halfway to his target weight. But the goal is so much more.

"He's a good boy and we love him dearly. It doesn't matter what size he is, we still love him. And we just want to make sure that he's healthy enough to live a long life with us," Wigginton said.

So diet and exercise are important in shedding those pandemic pounds, but if you take those steps and the weight still doesn't come off, it could be another problem - like an underactive thyroid. So that's a sign it's time to take your pet to the hospital.

Graham says one benefit of people spending more time with their pets is that they are picking up on health problems that have gone unnoticed in the past.

Catching these issues early can extend the life of your four-legged family member.

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