Overweight pets shedding pounds with help from local organizations

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — There is a growing health crisis in the country:  pets are more fat than fit.  It is why workouts and weigh-ins are not just for people anymore.

Samantha is 7 1/2 but acts more like a puppy since dropping more than a few.

“Ten pounds, that in a year,” says Samantha’s owner Stephanie Burnett.  She’s been bringing Samantha to the pool at Alpha Dog Club in the West End since her vet said just cutting down on food wasn’t cutting it.

Instructor Spencer Hawthorne says it is because swimming is gentle on joints already stressed by extra pounds.  Calories burned with every dive and stroke add up.

“We get quite a few dogs that come in from vet referrals from veterinarians in the area.  They have a specific amount of weight that vets want them to lose.” Hawthorne explains.

Across town, Dr. Kevin Phelps, a Richmond SPCA Veterinarian, weighs in.   “We can feed diet food all that we want all day long, but unless they expend energy it’s very futile in that they won’t lose what we need them to lose.”   Dr. Phelps says not getting enough exercise has become an epidemic among pets.

A 2014 survey from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found 53% of dogs were overweight, while 58% of cats were overweight.  It leads to the same health problems their human counterparts have:  arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes.

The Richmond SPCA has rescued a growing number of chunky kitties.

“A lot of them do tend to come on overweight,” says Tyber Murphy, a Behavior and Training Specialist.

Tyber Murphy works with cats at Richmond SPCA
Tyber Murphy works with cats at Richmond SPCA

Murphy demonstrates some cat calisthenics that the SPCA does with overweight cats.  It’s basically initiating play that includes plenty of jumping and batting.

Even eating can require exercise.  Murphy points out toys that only serve up food during calorie-burning play.

“We do try to work with them as much as possible before they go home,” Murphy explains.

Back at Alpha Dog, Joel Gonzalez is on the sidelines, cheering on his Lab Remi who is doggy paddling his way to a leaner frame at the recommendation of his veterinarian.

“They become more than a pet and more like a member of the family. You want to care for them the same as you would a child,” says Gonzalez of his regular trips to Alpha Dog to help meet Remi’s fitness needs.

Barbara Morison’s dog Molly also got more news from the scale during her weigh-in to share with the vet.  “He couldn’t believe it.  He said keep up what you’re doing, so we are,” Morison says with a smile.

Dr. Phelps says pounds lost can mean gains.  “If we can do things early on that we don’t have early obesity, early issues they’re going to live that 18, 19, 20 years which is I think most people would sign up for that and not to have them at 13, 14 be gone.”

Burnett is thankful her vet helped to get Samantha on a better path.  She knows the regular pool workouts have been the best medicine for the aging pooch.

“Her stamina is better and she’s not panting all the time like she used to,” says Burnett.

How much exercise do your pets need?  It depends on their breed, age, size and overall health.  Some vets say 20 to 40 minutes, twice a day is a good place to start.  If they are very overweight or have other issues, they may need more individual attention like Hawthorne provides in the pool.  He says studies have found swimming for 15 minutes equals a five-mile walk for dogs.  As always, talk with your veterinarian before starting a fitness plan for your pet.






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