There are tons of “funny” videos and photos on the internet featuring overweight pets. Too many people still think chubby pets are adorable. However, obesity in pets is a very serious health problem. If not treated, it may lead to a host of life-threatening medical conditions – potentially resulting in the animal’s premature death.
Jean Holve, DVM, an internationally respected holistic veterinarian, is an expert in companion animal behavior, food and proper nutrition. She stresses that “Obesity in pets can lead to several serious health problems, such as liver disease, diabetes, heart failure, arthritis and renal disease.”
Pet obesity ranks very high in health concerns in veterinary practices today. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2016 clinical survey revealed the alarming statistics that over 53.9% of dogs and 58.9% of cats were classified as clinically overweight by their veterinary healthcare professionals.
This translates into the staggering figure that an estimated 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats are overweight. While there has been a slight drop in the numbers of corpulent pets reported in the 2016 survey, too many fur-family members are overweight.
Obesity in cats and dogs is a nutritional disease defined by an excess of body fat. Simply stated: when pets are fed too much, have difficulty walking/exercising, or have a genetic tendency to retain weight, then these furry companions are at higher risk for getting fat.
What are some of the reasons that obesity contributes to the many serious medical conditions to which our pets are at risk?
The foremost reason pets get plump is the balance between how much they are fed (energy intake) and the amount of their daily exercise (energy output). If the dog or cat’s food intake is more than he/she can burn up, then those extra ounces and pounds mount up quickly.
As our pets mature, sufficient exercise may diminish. High calorie and carbohydrate diets, free–feeding, and too many treats contribute to our pets putting on weight. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease and Adult Onset Diabetes also may lead to obesity.
How is pet obesity diagnosed? Obese cats and dogs will have an excess body weight of approximately 10 to 15 percent. Using the 9-point scoring system, felines and canines are diagnosed as obese when they reach a body-condition score that is greater than 7. Your veterinarian will examine your pet and access the pet’s body-condition score by feeling its ribs, lumbar area, tail and head.
Middle-aged pets between 5 and 10 years of age are at higher risk of obesity; the pet’s physical activity begins to wane and changes in metabolism begin to occur. Neutered/spayed dogs and cats and indoor kitties are at a much greater risk of becoming obese when the food/exercise equation is imbalanced. These weight gains can be prevented or minimized by consulting with your veterinarian who can design a program that safely reduces the pet’s caloric intake and also create a tailor- made moderate exercise program.
How is obesity treated? Safe weight loss and a slow and steady decrease in the pet’s body weight is the first line of treatment. Compliance of the veterinarian’s prescribed species-appropriate calorie reduction diet, and medically relevant exercise schedule is essential. Dietary protein stimulates metabolism and expenditure of energy. It also gives the dog a feeling of fullness. The fiber contains little energy and stimulates intestinal metabolism and energy – for dogs, this type of diet may consist of feeding a low-fat protein and fiber rich diet.
However, weight reduction programs for felines differ greatly from a canine’s. Simply reducing calories and fats or skipping meals can cause serious harm to obese kitties. According to Dr. Hofve, “Dieting to reduce calories may cause even worse problems, such as life-threatening liver disease. Skipping a single meal can throw a sensitive cat into a serious problem.” Carbohydrates are a top villain contributing to obesity in felines.
Obese cats are at a higher risk of diabetes. Feeding a high-fiber diet to a diabetic cats may help them to lose fat but this causes muscle loss. Cats thrive on the “Catkins” diet. This is a high protein, low carb diet which helps reduce weight and prevents obese cats from getting diabetes. “Light” diets containing lower fat content, grains, or carbs are not species appropriate. Cats are obligate carnivores and thrive on meat protein.
Your veterinarian is your ideal partner to help your pet lose weight. A healthy species-appropriate diet and prescribed exercise program will help your pet lose weight safely. Getting your pet into tip-top shape is a fabulous New Year’s resolution. We bet your pet will agree!
FloridaWild Vet Hospital is celebrating this entry into the New Year by reducing the cost of our 2018 FloridaWild calendars. Our calendar features over 50 FloridaWild patients! Come get yours today for only $11.50 and see if your pet is one of our calendar stars!
The Funky Mutt Market is giving 20% off a single play-date purchase when you buy any of our retail or food. Your dog will love this deal!
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)