Weight Watchers: Canada’s Pet Obesity Problem

A pudgy pet can be cute, but an overweight pet could lead to problems down the road.

Weight Watchers: Canada's Pet Obesity ProblemPhoto: Thinkstock

Three years ago, Heidi Fenske, a 41-year-old library support technician for a school board, was more likely to be found loafing on the couch watching television than jogging on the trails. Concerned that her sedentary lifestyle was affecting the health of her year-and-a-half-old mini-goldendoodle, Quincy, she sought out ways the two could be more active. She came across Thank Dog!a Milton, Ont., fitness boot camp that helps dogs and their owners work out together. “I jumped at it,” Fenske says. After nearly three years of twice-weekly sessions, she and Quincy haven’t looked back. 

Quincy isn’t alone. Dr. Jim Berry, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, estimates that 50 to 60 per cent of the country’s pets are either overweight or obese. Obesity poses its share of potential health risks-osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and decreased life expectancy, among them. The good news is that watching portion size and choosing low-calorie snacks-he recommends raw or cooked root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, squash and sweet potatoes-can make a difference, Berry says. “Exercise pets daily,” he says, adding that dog owners should keep their pets active for a minimum of 20 minutes three times daily, and cats need at least 15 to 20 minutes of exercise twice every day. If your schedule doesn’t allow for three walks a day, Berry says 20 minutes in the morning and 40 in the evening will do. 

For Fenske, the benefits to health and happiness have been clear. Since the pair made workouts a regular part of their lives, Quincy has made the transformation from pudgy to fit and muscular. Fenske thinks a pet’s fitness level can serve as a barometer for that of its owner. “If your dog is overweight, you probably are, too,” she says. “And if you are superfit and your dog isn’t, why not?”

“It’s possible for every pet, regardless of age or breed, to lose weight with exercise,” says Janice Desjardins, a registered animal health technologist at the Southglen Veterinary Hospital in Winnipeg.

For dogs, try playing fetch, going swimming and taking up sports such as agility training, rally obedience and herding. While cats are more difficult to exercise, Desjardins encourages owners to introduce chasing toys or a laser pointer into their furry friends’ lives to help them lose weight. Another trick: change the location of the food bowl without them knowing. “It’ll motivate them to try to find it,” Desjardins says.