Pets

Do pet food companies push obesity in dogs?

Q: Our veterinarian says we’re overfeeding our pets, and I couldn’t disagree more. The tiny amounts they eat are exactly what the bags say they should eat. It’s true they’re all overweight, but if I feed them less I’m risking their health, right? What am I supposed to do? Feed them four kibbles apiece?

A: Bags and cans of food are labeled with generic recommendations for caloric intake –– and they’re big portions. These portions are so large I‘ve come to believe these amounts probably represent the maximum amounts young, healthy and extremely active animals need to keep to maintain their weight.

In my experience, few sedentary animals require anywhere near what the bags or cans says our pets should eat. But it’s true; that amount can appear deceptively small. Here’s why:

Since most pet food is delivered either as desiccated morsels or dense patés specifically designed for convenience and affordability, the nutrient content can be deceptive. In other words, pet food tends to be more nutritionally dense than standard human fare. They contain more calories per ounce –– which explains why you need to feed pets less than your people-food brain is telling you.

For example, most dog kibble averages about 300 to 500 calories per cup. Think: Snickers bar. A comparison can also be aptly made to one of those meal-replacing protein bars you might pick up at the gym. Or a large Milk Bone biscuit, which also contains about as many calories as a cup of kibble.

Then there’s this annoying issue: What’s with the verbiage that passes for gospel on the side of the pet food bag? Why do pet food companies seem to want pets to be fat?

This may be an unduly harsh statement, but it’s what most veterinarians are really thinking when we read that a 45-pound dog needs to eat three cups twice a day. (Never mind that Bella is supposed to weigh 25 to 30 pounds or that she does nothing but sit on a couch all day.)

These caloric recommendations are enough to make the cynical among us question the true motives (and the morals) of an industry that harbors a collective financial interest in moving higher volumes of food.

Ultimately, the responsibility for interpreting the labeled recommendations on pet food comes down to a frank discussion between you and your veterinarian. But if your pets are overweight, it should be obvious that you’re overfeeding them.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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