When our pets come into our lives, we become fully responsible for their overall well being. In return for the unconditional love we receive, we want to make sure we can do everything possible to give our pets a long and happy life.
Donna and I have been blessed to have dogs in our lives for over 30 years. They taught us so much about ourselves and the many choices we have as pet owners to ensure they live a long life. Often times we look back at some of our decisions we made and swear we would never make those same mistakes going forward. (If you would like to watch a short video of how and why Back To The Bone came to be, Click Here).
We realized that there are some things you can control, and some things you cannot when it comes to our pets’ longevity.
We cannot control, for the most part, genetics. We get what we get. DNA will play a role in determining overall health and longevity.
We can control what and how much we feed, exercise, vaccinations, neutering and spaying decisions, the use of anti-biotics and NSAID’s and the environment (inside and outside) that our pets spend most of their time in.
Maintaining a healthy weight is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can do as pet owners. Pet obesity rates in North America continue to increase each year and are currently at all time highs. Overweight/obese pets develop a host of diseases and have a lower quality of life as well as a shorter life versus pets who maintain a healthy weight.
According to the most recent Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) survey, in 2018 an estimated 60% of cats (56 million) and 56% of dogs (50 million) were overweight (26% of cats; 37% of dogs) or obese (34% of cats; 19% of dogs)
The most common obesity-related health conditions in dogs and cats are:
Arthritis Urinary/Bladder Disease Liver Disease
Soft Tissue Trauma Heart Disease Diabetes
Many of these conditions can take years off your pet's life and destroy the quality of daily life along the way. The financial implications are serious as well. It is estimated that pet parents pay tens of millions of dollars in medical costs to treat their animals for obesity-related conditions. Let us have a look at what we can do as pet parents to manage a healthy weight for our pets.
WHAT WE CHOOSE TO FEED
Feeding a highly processed kibble high in starches and carbohydrates is not consistent with how our feline (obligate carnivore) and canine (facultative carnivore) friends are structured. Carbs and starches are one of the main reasons why pet obesity exists at the rate we are seeing today. A diet consisting of moisture rich muscle meat, organ meat, bone and some phyto-nutrients is optimal and species-appropriate.
HOW MUCH SHOULD WE BE FEEDING?
This is the tricky part. For years we have been told to feed a certain amount based on weight and/or breed type. I think there is much more that needs to be considered in determining the amount one should be feeding to achieve and/or maintain optimal weight.
The differences in breed, age and lifestyle will play a significant role in determining how much we should be feeding on a daily basis. There are so many different guidelines and “Rules” available to us that it can be overwhelming. I think it is a big mistake to determine a feeding amount based solely on a dog or cat’s current weight (or future adult weight when dealing with puppies and kittens). We have a Raw Feeding Calculator that factors in age, activity level and current weight. This is a great place to start, but it is important to pay attention to body shape over time and realize the calculation changes based off many factors throughout life.
There are so many variables that play a role in our pet’s metabolic rate. You can have two dogs, same breed, similar weight, but one may need to be feed an amount quite different than the other. Much of this has to do with age, lifestyle (exercise) and the types and mixtures of proteins being fed. So, the best way to get to an appropriate feeding amount is to pay attention to body shape. To learn more about what appropriate body shape looks and feels like, Click here for Dogs, Click here for Cats.
Some breeds need to be fed different amounts, depending on time of year. As an example, Eddie a Bernese Mountain Dog is fed one amount during the cooler and winter months but less during the warmer and summer months. Other customers of ours feed more in the summer when their pets are much more active with more walks and hikes than in the winter months. Then there are some where it makes no difference and maintain their body shape consistently throughout the course of a year without ever having to change the amount they are fed. Pay attention to if your pet is more or less active during certain seasons and adjust accordingly.
As our pets age and move from adults to seniors and geriatrics, your pet’s need for the same kCalories may start to decrease. Our ageing pets, for the most part, become less active, sleep more often, and do not need as much as they did when they were younger. When striving to maintain a healthy body shape in an ageing pet, it will be important to make some adjustments in the amount we feed each day.
I cannot stress enough, feeding to body shape is crucial. Most dogs and some cats will make you feel that you are not feeding them enough. It is important to not let your pet dictate how much to feed. This is, for the most part, a behavioural issue and can be easily managed by not giving in.
Most pet owners love to offer treats or raw bones and chews. Each of these can be a contributor to your pets’ kCalorie intake if not offered in appropriate amounts. We have found that too many treats (and treats that have poor ingredients i.e., high in carbs) can be a factor in trying to reduce weight or maintaining proper body shape. Depending on how much and what is being offered as a chew or treat, you might have to make an adjustment to either the amount of food being offered, or the treats and chews being consumed.
The Picky Pet and Meal Toppers
This is what we know. Healthy dogs (cats are a different story all together) will not starve themselves. We have had so many interactions with customers who claim that their dogs are so picky that they have not eaten in days and that it is driving them crazy because it is so stressful when their dogs do not eat what is presented to them. We have heard everything from hand feeding their dog to using the craziest of items as toppers. More often than not, when we get a chance to meet these “picky” dogs, they are at a good weight or are overweight. It is obvious that the dog is eating something and certainly is not lacking getting calories. More often than not, when we get the fishing line out, the dog has trained the owner and the eating situation is a behavioural issue. The pet has trained the owner to cook a steak or chicken breast, or add in bits of treats or cheese, or perhaps it's 'gotta' be off your plate at the dinner table. At the end of the day, we all want to do what is best for our pets. Letting them dictate what and how they are being fed is not optimal and will lead to weight and health issues down the road. Tough love and protein rotation can be your best tool instead of shredding cheese or putting other items into your dog’s bowl. Dogs are similar to children in this case, a bit of tough love can ensure their getting the proper nutrition and not just calories from other less beneficial sources. Also when it comes to picky pets (that do not appear to be underweight) consider reevaluating your feeding amounts. We often find they are being over fed and this can lead to pickiness, they're never feeling that hungry, so will pick and choose their 'favourites', as opposed to eating what is offered. This is where checking back in with our feeding calculator can definitely be a handy tool - the amount your 8 month old puppy was eating, will not be what your adult dog eats.
A Final Note
Maintaining our pet’s weight and providing them with the appropriate amount of exercise and mental stimulation plays an important role in giving them the best chance at a long and healthy life. Some of you may have heard or read about Bluey the Australian Cattle Dog who lived to be 29 yrs. and 5 months or Maggie the Australian Kelpie who passed away at the age of 30. Hereditary factors play a role and being dealt a good hand certainly helps. However, these two dogs lived an incredible life on farms and were offered a life full of daily exercise and real food.