According to the 10th annual survey taken by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), in 2017 pet obesity in the United States is on the rise; affecting 60% of cats and 56% of dogs. The survey included opinions from pet owners and veterinary professionals concerning a variety of pet food issues. Questions in the survey included whether wet food was more appropriate than dry food, if the quality of pet food has improved, and what the most beneficial sources of pet dietary recommendations are available today.
What was most alarming in the 2017 survey is the increase in pet obesity compared with the results of the 2016 survey. In that survey, 53.9% of dogs and 58.9% of cats were classified as clinically overweight or obese by their veterinary healthcare professionals. What is more disturbing is the 2016 survey demonstrated a slight drop in pet obesity.
APOP Founder, veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward said. “We’re continuing to see more pets diagnosed with obesity rather than overweight. Clinical obesity results in secondary conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease and certain forms of cancer. Pets with obesity also have reduced quality of life and shorter life expectancy.”
Obesity in cats and dogs is defined by an excess of body fat, and is considered a nutritional disease. When pets are overfed or have difficulty exercising or walking, or a genetic tendency to retain weight, these animal companions are at higher risk of becoming overweight. We asked FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital Veterinarian, Dr. Sarina Barbara for her professional opinions about some of the reasons that pets put on those unwanted pounds and what owners can do to both help prevent their pets from becoming overweight, and what she suggests to help them safely shed excessive weight.
We asked Dr. Barbara, “Do owners show affection by feeding their pets extra goodies, snacks and treats?” She replied, “It is very easy to over feed our pets with love. It is part of most cultures to show affection toward family and loved ones through food and this carries over to our pets.” Dr. Barbara added, “Additionally, while many owners are aware that their pet is a little “pudgy”, some owners do not realize the severity of the overweight with which their pet is affected.”
We often hear that neutering and spaying can cause pets to become overweight. We asked Dr. Barbara if this is true or simply a myth that continues to prevail or if hormone changes associated with spay and neuter surgeries lead to lower caloric requirements?
Dr. Barbara explained, “Once a dog or cat is spayed/neutered, their metabolism slows down a bit and therefore their daily caloric needs to be decreased. It is very common for pets to gain a shocking amount of weight within 6 months of getting spayed or neutered. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to reduce their caloric intake by 25% right after their surgery.
“There are always exceptions to this general rule, so consulting your veterinarian prior to making diet changes is ideal. Many shelters will spay/neuter dogs and cats at quite young ages. If your pet was spayed or neutered prior to 6 months of age then I recommend waiting until they are at least 6-9 months old to start cutting back on their daily caloric intake as many pets are still growing at this age.”
Although hormonal changes following neuter and spay surgeries can cause pets to become overweight, their weight gain may also be a result of insufficient exercise. We asked Dr. Barbara if lack of exercise, (otherwise known as “Couch potatoism”) is responsible for pets becoming obese. Do pets gain weight from feeding them excessive calories without sufficient exercise to burn them off?
Dr. Barbara replied, “Lack of exercise does indeed have an influence on the obesity issues we have with many of our pets. However, caloric intake is the major factor in the issue. These animals are simply being fed too many calories. Keeping pets active is great for their physical and mental well-being, so please get them off the couch and provide more stimulation in their lives. At the end of the day, cutting calories is what will produce the best weight loss results in most of our pets.”
We asked Dr. Barbara for recommendations to help pets lose weight safely. We wondered if “diet pet foods” are nutritionally sound and if it is wise for owners to seek a nutritional consultation with their veterinarian in order to feed their pet appropriately.
“I like to transition my overweight patients to a home cooked diet because home-prepared meals are high in moisture and nutrient dense”, said Dr. Barbara. “Dry kibble tends to be quite high in calories and most dogs require a very small amount of kibble daily to maintain their weight. Since this tends to be an uncomfortably small volume of food for both the owner and the pet, by feeding home prepared meals, the pet can be offered a larger volume which tends to be much more satisfying for the animal and the owner. Owners must seek veterinary guidelines when feeding a home prepared diet so that we can assure that the meals are balanced.”
Cats are obligate carnivores and require meat as their main protein source. Kitties also can thrive well on a feline-specific, home-prepared meal or a nutritionally complete raw food diet. It is highly suggested that cats not be fed dry food since it is high in carbohydrates and cats lack an enzyme to digest it easily.
Since obesity is a major risk for other health conditions in humans, we asked Dr. Barbara if obese pets also carry similar health risks. Dr. Barbara responded, “Obesity puts a toll on the heart, airway, metabolism, joints, and overall decreases the animal’s life expectancy.” Other obesity risks range from diabetes, to liver disease, high blood pressure and heart conditions.
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)