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Portly Pets

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— October 19, 2017

Portly Pets

  • There aren’t any statistics on the number of overweight exotic pets—a category that includes not only birds but also reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals—but given the rampant weight problems among cats and dogs (and people), it isn’t surprising.
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Portly Pets

‘Is that a parrot or a Butterball turkey?’

Obesity rates for dogs and cats in the US are estimated to run at roughly 30%, about the same as among this country’s human residents. (You know it’s a problem when Animal Planet decides to green-light a show, starting this fall, called “My Big Fat Pet Makeover.”) But are there overweight budgies and geckos out there as well? “We actually do see obese exotic pets. Pet birds, mainly,” says La’Toya Latney, DVM, who heads the exotics department at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital in Philadelphia.

There aren’t any statistics on the number of overweight exotic pets—a category that includes not only birds but also reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals—but given the rampant weight problems among cats and dogs (and people), it isn’t surprising. Weight issues in birds have been studied more than in other exotic species because, as Latney explains, “They are models for atherosclerosis in people.” Birds are often given feed that, unlike what they tend to eat in the wild, is too high in seeds. “It’s like eating a Happy Meal every day, all day,” Latney says. She often recommends pelleted bird food, which has a better nutritional balance; Harrison, an all-organic brand, and Lafeber are two options. Among reptiles, lack of exercise plays a role in obesity.

“We are trying to get owners to give their pets the space to engage in natural behaviors like they would in the wild,” says Latney. “They really do need to move around.” What’s more, the critters that carnivorous pet reptiles dine on are not what they’d be hunting themselves. “Insects sold as feeders are often high in fat and low in minerals,” notes Latney, who tells owners to feed the insects themselves a healthier diet before they turn into a lizard or snake chow. She adds that rats reared as reptile food have different nutritional profiles “from what the animals would eat in the wild.” Always take things nice and easy, no matter what type of pet you’re trying to slim down. Latney explains that too-quick changeovers may lead your pet to refuse its food, which can throw the animal’s body into starvation mode. As a result, Latney says, “the body tries to dump that extra fat into the bloodstream; it makes byproducts that are very toxic for the body.” Pet food websites often have guidelines for making safe dietary changes.

 

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