Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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It's Time to Shape Up, Pup!

Pet Column for the week of October 15, 2007

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Despite the amazing things our pets can do, like snatch a burger off the counter faster than you can yell "NO!," they probably are not sneaking out of the house and ordering a Big Mac, or a Venti Mocha Frappuccino while you aren't looking. Things of that nature are usually reserved for a different species called teenagers.

The obesity epidemic in humans can probably be linked to our affinity for fast food and lack of exercise, which may stem from stress. That's not news to most of us. But it is hard to justify reports from veterinarians in a Pfizer animal health study that found 47 percent or over 61 million of the approximately 130 million pets in this country are overweight or obese.

Most owners do not realize their beloved dog or cat is eating more than they need. The Pfizer study found only 17 percent of owners thought their pet had a weight issue. Although we are to blame for the pet obesity problem, it is difficult to notice your pet gaining weight when you see them everyday. In contrast to their human counterparts, their jeans don't start to get a little snug. But the rule is simple: If you can't feel ribs easily, or see a waist, then the animal needs to lose weight.

The University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Ill., has created a program to counter the increasing number of overweight pets in this country. Shape Up, Pup! is run by veterinary surgeon Dr. Ann Johnson, and Kim Knap, a certified veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner. The experts at Shape up, Pup! meet with you and your dog to tailor a weight loss plan that fits your needs.

According to Knap, a typical plan entails calculating specific dietary requirements to help your pet safely lose weight, as well as implement an exercise strategy. She recommends that non-active dogs start with a five minute walk twice a day, and then progress from there. Those who participate in Shape Up, Pup! can bring their dog to the Teaching Hospital gym. Although there are no dumbbells or weight benches, the facility is equipped with both a land and water treadmill, as well as other dog-friendly equipment.

Several problems with pets can be prevented by keeping them at a healthy weight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer can all be linked to carrying extra pounds. Even if your pet is already heavy, losing the slightest amount of weight will help to prevent or alleviate these problems.

Knap says, "Reward your pet with affection and not food. But if you do feel the need to give treats, carrots and green beans are a great low calorie snack."

For the majority of overweight pets, we are responsible for their poor health. However, if you feel your weight loss attempts are not helping, Knap suggests a visit to your veterinarian to check for an underlying metabolic disease. Your veterinarian must also check over your pet prior to starting any weight loss plan.

For more information about the Shape Up, Pup! program at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, contact Kim Knap at 217/265-5314 or, or contact your local veterinarian for information about a weight loss plan for your pet.