Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Cat on scale © Janet Morrell

Pets may need some tummy trimming, too.
© Janet Morrell

April 2010

Creature Comforts

Fat cats and pudgy pooches

Natasha Kassulke

Thoughts of spring may soon turn our attention south – to our waistlines. Just as you consider shedding a few pounds before swimsuit season, pets that have been more sedentary during winter or chowed down on table scraps during the holidays may need some tummy trimming, too.

According to ThePetCenter about 40 percent of cats are considered obese and 25 to 40 percent of dogs are overweight. Obesity in pets also leads to diabetes, circulatory problems, pancreatic disorders, liver disease and more. Consult your veterinarian before putting your pet on any weight loss program. Certain medical conditions also can cause obesity and need to be ruled out. The vet can also help you establish a program so your pet loses weight in a gradual, natural manner.

To determine if your cat or dog is overweight, run your hands along her ribs. If they can be easily felt then she's probably not overweight. However, if you have to press hard to feel the ribs, then your four-legged friend needs a lifestyle change.

A good first step? Eliminate high calorie treats and table scraps. Substitute affection for food treats. Give a pat or throw a ball instead of handing out a hot dog.

Taking your dog or cat for daily walks and providing regular play and exercise can benefit both of you, but don't overdo it. Tailor your exercise program to your pet's current state of health. Start slow and work up to higher activity levels. If your dog suffers from arthritis or is just getting up there in years, keep the exercise level consistent in length and intensity from one day to the next.

Nutritionally balanced diet foods are available that are less calorie dense so your pets can eat the same volume per meal while reducing the calories they ingest. Adding fiber to meals will help satiate their appetites without adding additional calories. A tablespoon or two of canned pumpkin is an easy way to increase fiber content, but add it gradually so that their bowels have a chance to adjust. Lifelong weight management for many pets, just as for humans, is an ongoing challenge.

Take time to track

Now is a great time to get the whole family outdoors to practice animal tracking. Whether you are slogging through the last traces of snow or the beginning of mud season, it's a great chance to hone your powers of observation and your dog's nose. The Department of Natural Resources publication Guidelines for Carnivore Tracking During Winter in Wisconsin can help you get going.

DNR researchers and trained volunteers have conducted winter track surveys of furbearing mammals since 1977. In 1979, the DNR began conducting formal wolf track surveys as part of the state wolf monitoring program, and a separate survey program to survey American marten began in 1981. The carnivore tracking program for volunteers grew out of these earlier surveys and training has been offered since 1995. Furbearers like wolves, bobcats, badger, fisher and otter grab attention, but backyard trackers can have just as much fun on the trail of raccoons, skunks, rabbits and squirrels.

A number of good tracking guides are available. DNR staff recommendations are listed below:

  • A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America by James Halfpenny provides good explanations of how to take track measurements, note gait patterns, and identify species by their tracks. The guide also provides excellent photos of animal scat that can help with identifications. You can also learn how to take plaster casts of tracks to preserve what you saw in the snow, mud or wet sand.
  • Mammal Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch (2003) has excellent color photos and natural history information. Some terminology and measurement methods are different from those used by DNR when training volunteer trackers.
  • Peterson's Field Guide to Animal Tracks by J. Murie is an old standard for most trackers and is still reliable, although not as complete a guide as Halfpenny's.
  • Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by P. Rezendes has excellent photos of animal tracks and other signs. Some information is outdated, so use in conjunction with another updated guide.
  • Bird Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch with Eleanor Marks is a good source for identifying bird tracks and other signs you may see by feeder platforms and on the ground in winter.

Natasha Kassulke is Creative Products Manager for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.