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Veterinarians report nearly half of Steamboat Springs pets overweight

Teresa Ristow
Siamese cat Charlie, 2, takes a stroll on a harness and leash outside his Old Town Steamboat Springs home. Owner Molly Herod said she started curbing Charlie's food intake this winter after noticing he had become heavier.
Teresa Ristow

— Though Routt County is often recognized for its healthy, physically fit adults, pets in the community aren’t keeping up, according to local veterinarians.

Veterinarians from Steamboat Veterinary Hospital and Pet Kare Clinic said last week that up to half of the dogs and cats they see are overweight, and that extra weight can lead to serious health conditions and a decreased lifespan.

“I would say between 40 and 50 percent of the dogs I see are overweight,” said Dr. Natalia Stiff, a veterinarian at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital.

Stiff said that it’s an owner’s responsibility to take control of their pet’s weight, by adjusting feeding and increasing exercise, particularly in the winter when pets are less active.

“A simple walk with your dog benefits both the owner and the dog,” Stiff said.

While walking cats isn’t common, Stiff said owners can use a laser pointer or play other games indoors to encourage their cat to move around.

For dogs, Stiff said owners should be able to see their pet’s waist and feel their ribs if they try.

If a pet is determined by a veterinarian to be overweight, the amount of food and treats given should be scaled back, according to Stiff and Dr. Cindy Hillemeyer, veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic.

Hillemeyer said the first step she takes is having owners use a measuring cup to accurately track how much their pets are eating. She suggests only feeding a couple of times a day and not allowing pets to “graze” food during the day.

Hillemeyer also suggests eliminating treats for overweight pets, and she said newly overweight dogs are sometimes treated to too many table scraps from children, though adults are also to blame.

“It’s kind of an interesting phenomenon,” Hillemeyer said. “We treat our pets like family members, and we love them to death with overeating.”

A study by Purina in 2002 compared 48 Labrador retrievers — with one group able to eat unlimited food during 15-minute feedings throughout their lifetime, and a group of dogs fed 75 percent of what their littermates ate.

Dogs that ate less of the same food over their lifetimes lived 15 percent longer, translating to nearly two extra years of life for Labradors in the study.

Stiff said some pets are good candidates for weight-control food diets, and she also suggests trying a homemade diet, if possible.

“Quality of food is very important,” said Stiff, who boils meat and vegetable scraps from meals she cooks for her family and feeds that to her dog.

Hillemeyer encouraged owners to feed pets appropriate food for their age category and to ask a veterinarian when a pet should move from puppy or kitten food to adult food to senior food based on their size.

Both Stiff and Hillemeyer encouraged owners who suspect their pets may be overweight to consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

Hillemeyer suggested regular stops into a veterinary office to weigh pets, as their gradual weight change may not be noticed by owners who see them every day.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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