AVIANO, Italy -- The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that in 2018 it was estimated that 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese.

Obesity in pets comes with a great risk of cardiac disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and musculoskeletal injuries. These illnesses can reduce the pet's life by more than two years, according to Capt. Sarah Gregory, Public Health Activity - Italy's veterinarian and officer in charge of the Aviano Veterinary Treatment Facility.

"Let's be honest, the chunky Labrador Retriever or chubby cat are often seen as the "healthy" body types," said Gregory. "Many of our animals are packing extra pounds because we feed them too much for their often inactive lifestyles. Most dogs and cats are not sporting animals and don't need extra calories."

Veterinarians from Public Health Command Europe advise owners to pay special attention to the spayed and neutered pet population since they require less calories than their intact counterparts.

"If you think your pet could be carrying around some extra weight, work with your local veterinarian at any veterinary treatment facility to assess their current weight and a healthy weight goal would be," said Gregory.

Gregory explained that in veterinary medicine, there is a body condition system that scores a pet from 1-9 with 1-3 being too thin, 4-5 being ideal, and 6-9 being too heavy.

"There should just be slight padding over their ribs when you run your hands across them. If you are looking at them from the top they should have a nice "waistline" and a "tuck" from the side view," said Gregory.

A veterinarian can teach the service members and their families how to assess appropriate body conditioning and instruct how to adjust nutrition and exercise to obtain the optimum wellness of each pet.

As a pet owner, it is the individual's responsibility to make sure that his/her pet is not overweight. When a pet is six-plus level, the owner should begin a conversation about the pet's weight loss.

Much like in the human world, there are medical conditions that can cause weight gain, so those conditions should be ruled out first. If there are no underlying medical conditions, the veterinary team will put a program together to encourage weight loss.

"Buy in and commitment to improving your pet's health is paramount," said Gregory. If you have children in the home, incentivize/create a game for children to not feed their furry friends table scraps. Set goals, make it fun, and monitor progress. It's a win-win for all parties involved."

Veterinarians from Public Health Command Europe put together a few easy tips how to encourage weight loss in dogs and cats. Healthy pets are happy pets!

Dogs:
o Discontinue all table scraps and high calorie treats.
o Feed appropriately measured amounts from standardized measuring cups twice daily.
o Stash away food from their daily meal feedings to use as treats throughout the day.
o Don't fall into the "puppy dog eye" trap of "looking hungry". They are not starving. If they are begging for food, redirect their attention to a walk or playing with a toy.
o Use puzzle feeders to enrich their minds and make them work for their food.
o Perform monthly weigh-ins at the vet to monitor progress

Cats: are not small dogs
o Discontinue free feeding and feed multiple small meals daily
o Feed at least one canned food meal daily which is typically higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than kibble
o Use puzzle or automatic feeders to encourage activity and provide mental stimulation
o Buy a baby scale and perform monthly weigh-ins at home to monitor progress

Always consult with your veterinarian for the best pet feeding practices, how much weight the pet can safely lose over a defined set of time, what the ideal weight range is, and what types of exercise are appropriate.

For more information follow "Public Health Command Europe" on Facebook or click here to find your closest veterinary treatment facility: https://rhce.amedd.army.mil/phce/PHCREuropeVeterinaryBranchesSections.html