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The Thanksgiving Spread—Plenty Means Plump for People and Pets

Thanksgiving is the official start of the holiday season – and the start of holiday weight gain for both people and their pets. With plates piled high with turkey and dressing, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie, it’s natural to want to share this banquet with our pet loved ones. While sharing our holiday meals with our pets seems innocent and even caring, those extra calories and pounds can put your pooch or feline friend at risk for serious weight gain and health threats. Overweight pets have higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and more.

Hold the treats

There’s no doubt that holiday treats turn into measurable weight gain, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a group of veterinarians and veterinary healthcare experts dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers of pet obesity and providing obesity prevention and weight loss techniques. They performed a study of 32 adult dogs and cats over the 2006 holiday period to determine just how much weight pets gained during the holidays. The study found the average weight gain was 0.3 pounds for dogs and 0.37 pounds for cats during the period from November to January. Each pound on a dog equals approximately 5 to 7 pounds on a person, and an extra pound on a cat is similar to a weight gain of 7 to 10 pounds. This means that the dogs studied were gaining the equivalent of 2 human pounds, and cats gained an equivalent of 3 human pounds over the holiday season. While the average American gains slightly over a pound from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day with overweight and obese individuals gaining significantly more, it is clear from our study that we are sharing more than good cheer with our pets each holiday season.

The average person will consume over 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. Much of this comes in the form of fatty and sugary foods that delight the palate but deposit around our midsection. For pets, these high calorie meals mean that even small treats – 4 to 6 ounces – pack on the pounds even faster than the usual fare of doggy bones. APOP estimates that dogs will be fed an extra 500 calories or twice the normal number of calories for a 20-lb dog, while cats will receive an extra 200 calories or almost 80% more calories than the average cat needs.

If you’re inclined to share your holiday buffet with your pet, there are some simple guidelines you can follow to help kick off the holiday season safely and leave you with no regrets when you and your pet hit the scales January

Reach for the veggies

If you decide to share your plate with your pet, reach for vegetables. Carrots, broccoli, celery, and asparagus are some of the tastiest and healthy treats you can give your dog. The crunchy consistency and low calories make them a smart choice for both two and four-legged party goers. If you’re looking for a savory Thanksgiving Day goodie for your cat, try giving two ounces (about half a handful) of salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids provide health benefits for the heart, eyes, brain, joints, and immune system and as long as you keep the portions small, the amount of extra calories is minimal.

Foods to avoid for both cats and dogs include onions, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts. The biggest mistake pet lovers make during the holidays is simply overindulging. It’s fine to include your pet in the celebrations; just keep it in moderation. Be sure to tell your friends and family not to feed the pet guests. If everyone at the party sneaks even a little to a pet, it can quickly add up to a dangerous amount. Assure them the pets will get their own Thanksgiving meal when everyone is served.

Serve pets at their own “table”

As you serve your company, take your pets to their food bowls for their meal (see sample Thanksgiving Day Menu). This will prevent begging and keep the focus on the camaraderie at the dinner table. A pet with poor table manners is at least a distraction and at worst a disaster. Too many holiday gatherings have been ruined by a cat jumping on the table or a dog dumping the dumplings. Keep the pets at the pets’ table and the people at theirs and your Thanksgiving Day meal will proceed more smoothly.

The holiday season is a time to reflect on the year’s blessings and connect with loved ones. Overindulge in affection and eat in moderation and your holiday season will be the most enjoyable ever.

Dr. Ernie’s Thanksgiving Day Menu for Dogs – 210 calories

This meal is for a 20- to 50-lb. dog. Reduce or increase portion size accordingly.

Salad Spinach, baby carrots (4), and apple cubes (6 1⁄2” cubes) – approximately 25 calories

Main Course
Turkey – roasted breast without the skin – 2 ounces – approximately 75 calories
Cooked sweet potato – 1⁄4 large sweet potato – approximately 40 calories
Green beans – 1⁄2 cup – approximately 8 calories

Canned pumpkin – 1⁄4 cup – approximately 20 calories
Graham crackers (plain) – 1⁄2 sheet (2 crackers) – approximately 30 calories
Honey – 1⁄2 teaspoon – approximately 12 calories Cinnamon spice – pinch

Pets’ Weight Gain Over the Holidays can put Them at Risk

Just like their owners, cats and dogs tend to gain weight between Thanksgiving and the New Year. So you may want to think twice before giving your pets special holiday treats this season. An estimated 45% of the 130 million pets in the United States are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and cancer.

Just how much weight gain those holiday treats can carry was quantified in a recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). The study followed 21 healthy adult dogs and 11 cats that were weighed October 1 to November 15, 2006 and re-weighed January 15 to February 28, 2007. The dogs included in the study gained an average of 0.3 pounds and cats added 0.37 pounds. The age range for dogs in the study was 2 to 14 years of age with a median age of 7.8 years, and cats were 1 to 16 years with a median age of 7.6.

According to APOP’s founder, Dr. Ernie Ward of Calabash, North Carolina, each pound of weight on a dog is equivalent to 5 to 7 pounds on a person, and each pound gained on a cat equals 7 to 10 pounds. This equates to a person gaining 1 to 2 pounds during the holiday season, which is what previous studies done on humans have found.

Dr. Ward advises pet owners to watch portion sizes and avoid high-calorie treats during the holidays. “We want our pets to share in our celebrations and often confuse affection with confection. Those extra calories add pounds that put our pet loved ones at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.” Ward recommends offering healthy treat alternatives for dogs, including carrots, broccoli, apples, and celery. “While it’s challenging to lose weight or diet during the holidays for many, our goal should be to maintain our current weight by making responsible, healthy food choices for both ourselves and our pets.”

Pet Obesity Continues to Grow in US

Pet Obesity Continues to Grow in US
Results of 2009 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study


Click here for the downloadable version.

Calabash, NC – March 9, 2010. In the US, over 45% of dogs and 58% of cats are now estimated to be overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). The third annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study, conducted in October 2009, found that from 2007 to 2009, the number of overweight dogs and cats increased by 2% and 5%, respectively.

“Pet obesity is now the biggest health threat to pets in the US,” states lead researcher Dr. Ernie Ward. “The costs of obesity in illness and injury make it the number one medical issue seen in today’s veterinary hospitals.”

Obesity rates in cats were highest at 21.4%; dogs were slightly better with 8.6% classified as obese by veterinary clinics. Obesity in dogs and cats is typically defined as 30% above normal weight.

According to the study, 6.7 million dogs are estimated to be obese and 34.9 million overweight. The numbers in cats is higher, with 20 million estimated to be obese and 54.3 million overweight.

“These numbers, 34 million dogs and 54 million cats that are overweight, continue to slowly creep upwards. The frightening fact is that now pet owners are increasingly classifying their overweight pets as ‘normal,’ making the problem more difficult to address,” notes Dr. Ward. “If this ‘fat gap’ continues to grow, that is, when a pet owner looks at their chubby companion and views it as a normal, healthy weight, our nation’s pets will continue to suffer the consequences of obesity. I believe owners have this misperception because they are surrounded by fatter and fatter pets. Twenty years ago, these dogs were viewed as overweight. Today, pet owners view them as normal.”

When asked, 33% of dog owners and 46% of cat owners with overweight pets incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight; 25% of dog owners with obese dogs reported their dog was normal while 40% of obese cat owners thought their cat was a normal weight. Interestingly, 33% of small dog (less than 23 pounds) owners thought their overweight dog was a normal weight compared to 41% of large dog (over 50 pounds) owners.

Owners of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers were more likely to claim their dog was a normal weight when it was in reality, overweight. And 43% incorrectly identified their overweight Retriever as normal while only 33% of small breed dog owners underestimated their dog’s weight. In total, 46% of all Labrador and Golden Retrievers were determined to be overweight or obese. The study found that in general, owners of small breed dogs were more likely to correctly identify their dog as overweight than owners of large breed dogs.

“It’s important that pet owners understand the significance of even a few extra pounds on a dog or cat,” explains Dr. Ward. “For example, a 90-pound female Labrador Retriever is equivalent to a 186-pound 5 foot, 4 inch female while a 12-pound Yorkshire Terrier is similar to 223 pounds on the same woman. A 15-pound cat is equivalent to a 225-pound 5 foot, 9 inch male and a 20-pound feline equals 300 pounds on that man. Each pound on a cat is equal to about 13 pounds on the average female and 15 pounds on a male.”

“One encouraging finding was that 82% of pet owners agreed that pet obesity was a problem in the US. The challenge for veterinarians is to educate owners of dogs and cats on what a healthy weight actually is for their pet and offer weight loss strategies,” says Dr. Ward.

Treats continue to be the main culprit for excess weight. According to Ward, 90% of dog owners and 54% of cat owners responded that they gave their pets treats. “Even tiny treats pack a punch,” notes Ward. “Even worse, today’s treats are so loaded with sugar and fat I call them ‘kibble crack.’ Modern treats are literally rewiring our pets’ behavioral responses and creating cravings that go far beyond what is normal in many pets.”

Ward stresses that pet owners need to understand the impact treats have on their pets’ weight. For example, he equates a premium pig ear given to a 40-pound dog to drinking six, 12-ounce colas. “No one would sit down and drink six sodas at one time, yet that’s exactly what we’re doing when we give our pets these snacks,” states Dr. Ward. “Even a single, small dog bone treat given to a 10-pound dog is no different than a person eating two chocolate doughnuts. The truth is, we rarely stop at one dog treat. Give a few each day and you’ve fed the equivalent of a dozen doughnuts. No wonder we’re seeing such high obesity rates.”

The third annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study was conducted using data collected by 41 US veterinary clinics in October 2009. In all, about 600 adult dogs and cats were evaluated. Approximately 8.6% of dogs were classified as obese and 35% as overweight. Approximately 21.4% of all cats were rated as obese and 36.5% as overweight.

Click here for information on “Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter”

Click here for a copy of the 2008 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study

Click here for a copy of the 2007 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study

Click here for Thanksgiving Holiday Weight Gain Article and Dr. Ernie’s Thanksgiving Meal for Dogs.

This information written by Dr. Ernest Ward, Jr. Unauthorized duplication or reproduction without
expressed written permission is prohibited.