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Watching your dog's weight.


Serving as a judge at a children's pet show, I once had the duty of granting a pudgy cocker spaniel the "fattest dog' award. Although its young owner was pleased, I felt the award was a dubious honor, for obesity, the most common nutritional disease of dogs, can lead to heart, lung, kidney, and liver diseases, as well as to diabetes. Fat dogs have lower resistance to disease, increased surgical risk, and decreased reproduction; they are also prone to whelping problems, joint ailments, constipation, and flatulence.

An animal 10 to 15 percent above desirable weight is considered obese or overweight; an estimated 25 to 44 percent of dogs are in that category. Obesity, more common in females than in males, occurs most frequently in neutered animals of both sexes. Beagles, cocker spaniels, collies, dachshunds, and Labrador retrievers seem to win the fattest dog "honors' most often.

Overweight occurs gradually; it may not be noticed immediately. To find out if your dog is too fat, check weight records with your veterinarian. (Dogs generally reach their desirable weight within the first year after maturity.) Or use the simple if less accurate method of feeling the dog's ribs, which ideally have a moderately thin layer of fat. If you cannot easily feel your dog's ribs, the animal is probably overweight. Other signs include a protruding stomach, waddling, sluggishness, and fatty areas, or "pones,' on either side of the tail or the head or above the hips.

Overfeeding is the most frequent cause of dog obesity. Humans have a tendency to overindulge their pets, but they are doing the animals no favor. In neutered pets obesity or overweight may result either from decreased sexual activity or from a reaction to decreased sex hormones, which may depress food intake in non-neutered animals, according to some studies. Nonetheless, I would be the last to condemn neutering; a neutered animal should simply be fed less and exercised more.

Two brisk 15-minute walks daily will use one-sixth of a 30-pound dog's energy need. If your animal is grossly overweight or has heart, respiratory, or joint problems, you should have it examined by a veterinarian before beginning an exercise program.

A high-fiber, low-fat diet will help your dog lose weight. The diet should provide 60 percent of the dog's caloric requirement at its desirable weight--for example, 420 calories per day, divided into three or four small servings, for a dog that normally requires 720 calories a day at 20 pounds. Your veterinarian can provide a prescription diet proper for your dog.

For a homemade diet, try 1/4 pound lean ground beef, 1/2 cup cottage cheese (uncreamed), 2 cups carrots, canned solids, 1 1/2 teaspoons dicalcium phosphate, a balanced canine vitamin, and a mineral supplement. Cook the beef, drain off the fat, and cool. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. The yield is 1 3/4 pounds at 250 calories per pound.* And be sure to keep your dog out of the room while you are preparing and eating your own meals.

* Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, Lon D. Lewis and Mark L. Morris, Jr.

After the dog has reached desirable weight, return to feeding it the correct number of calories to maintain that weight. Weigh the animal weekly. Your dog may not like going on a diet any more than you do, and he won't win the "fat-dog award,' but he will be healthier as a result.

Questions for the Vet

Dear Dr. White:

Can cats transmit leukemia to humans? Last winter an article I read in Family Circle said there is no evidence this can be done. Our veterinarian said he also knew of no such evidence. Today at work. I heard a lady say her cat may have leukemia; her husband told her he heard humans can get it from cats. Everyone is paranoid now with all the flap about AIDS--do we also have to worry about getting leukemia from our cats?

Thank you for the information about ash content in cat food several issues back. I had no idea you had to read labels on cat-food cans also, but I'm sure my kitty benefits greatly from my being an informed shopper.

Marjorie Delp Wapato, Washington

Dear Marjorie,

The new feline-leukemia vaccine for cats is one of the good-news items in the area of pet health care. A virus has been incriminated as the agent causing the disease. Studies have found no increased incidence of human leukemia in people at greatest risk, such as veterinarians and owners of infected cats. I should be a good test case, for I ingested serum from a leukemia-infected cat during a laboratory accident a few months ago.

Simple blood tests can determine if cats are infected with the feline-leukemia virus. Infected cats are a threat to other cats that come in contact with them; cats not infected can be protected by vaccination. A series of three intramuscular inoculations with the feline-leukemia vaccine, followed by annual revaccination, is recommended.

The following letter is excerpted from our Jan./Feb. '86 "Letters':

It was distressing to read Dr. White's casual reference to having her cat declawed. There are countless horror stories of cats who've been subjected to that surgery. Some have bled to death during or after the operation. Cats are prone to infection, and those ten amputations offer ten dangerous opportunities for infection to develop. Some cats undergo severe personality changes. Many become biters. Some authorities cite impaired balance and eventual weakening of the leg, shoulder, and back muscles.

Fortunately, there's no need for declawing. With the right scratching post, a cat will leave furniture alone. The trick is finding the "right' scratching post: tall enough for the cat to stretch, sturdy enough so it can't tip over, and covered with something other than shag carpet, which is not really very good for scratching.

LaDonna Johnson Owatonna, Minnesota

Dear LaDonna,

Declawing, an elective surgery, may or may not offend the sensitivity of individual cat owners. All my cats have been declawed. They suffered no ill effects I could detect and were still able to climb when outside.

Veterinarians take an oath to temper pain with anesthesia. I have had no patients returning with infections following this surgery, although the potential for infection follows any surgery.

For people who wish to have their cats declawed, I make the following recommendations: Declaw the front feet only; schedule the surgery when the cat is young, if possible (less than one year old); and avoid several stresses at once. In other words, do not have surgery performed at the same time as vaccinations, worming, baths, etc.

You have pointed out a good alternative with the scratching post. By scratching, cats condition their claws as well as mark territory with secretions from glands in their feet. Establish the new scratching post as the cat's territory by rubbing its feet on it. Select a post covered with material that has longitudinal threads and keep the post in the cat's favorite place until it is used to using it.

A recent veterinary journal described a procedure placing small beads on cats' claws as an alternative to surgical declawing. The beads are put on the tip of the claw with a type of glue. The cat can use its claws but not tear with them. The beads are shed periodically along with the tip of the claw.

Declawing cats is an ethical question on which many differ in opinion. Often what is acceptable to certain individuals is offensive to others. I personally will not pierce my ears or wear real animal fur; yet I have no trouble with wearing shoe leather, eating steak, or declawing C.K., my own little "boy.' To thine own conscience be true.

Thank you for writing.

Photo: Free-choice feeding of high-fat foods may lead to skeletal problems in growing dogs and to obesity in adults.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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