Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Put your dog on a diet? N.C. vet's new book exposes pet obesity epidemic

It seems like it would be easy. Got a fat cat? An obese dog? Stop feeding them so much.

But in his new book, "Chow Hounds" ($14.95, Health Communications), Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian in Calabash, explains that solving America's pet obesity epidemic isn't that simple.

Dr. Ward visits Charlotte's Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark 7 p.m. Monday, April 26. He'll talk about his book and answer questions. Meanwhile, some interesting points he shared with me:

* Nearly 50 percent of America's dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight. That's 89 million overweight pets.

* In recent years, the pet food industry has loaded many products with fat and sugar in a race for what Dr. Ward calls "first-bite preference."

Just like people, dogs love fat and sugar. "When your dog sees that food, it eats it rapidly. So you're more likely to buy it."

Dr. Ward contends pets become addicted to these high-calorie products. "Kibble crack," he calls them. "They're eating for pleasure," he says. We've substituted interaction and play with food."

* Pet food makers aren't required to reveal calories per serving on most products. Dr. Ward is pushing for new rules that require calorie listings.

So what's the owner of a pudgy pet to do? Among Dr. Ward's suggestions:

* Look for high-protein pet foods. "I want protein about 30 percent for dogs and above 35 percent for cats," he says. "Look for meat as the first ingredient."

* Take your dog for more walks. "My hidden agenda here is to help both ends of the leash," he says.

* Know that most feeding guides are formulated for active pets that aren't spayed or neutered. If you've got an indoor pet that's been spayed or neutered, it doesn't need as many calories. An indoor neutered cat, he says, needs only about 180 to 220 calories per day.