Big dogs & fat cats

Obesity in people has become a large problem in our society. We see a similar trend in our domestic pets. Obesity is defined as an excess of body fat sufficient to cause impaired health or body function, recognized to be between 20-25% above ideal body weight. Over one-third of our domestic dogs and cats are overweight, with a large percentage of these being characterized as obese.

            Being overweight poses a health risk to dogs and cats. There is a significant increase in the incidence of arthritis for both species. We see an increase in the development of heart disease and diabetes in overweight patients. The risk for development of diabetes increases 2-fold in overweight dogs and up to 8-fold in obese cats. Cats can also develop liver problems. A recent lifelong clinical study in dogs showed that even moderately overweight dogs developed more health problems than their leaner counterparts. These health problems developed on average two to three years earlier than in the leaner dogs. There was also a significant correlation between being overweight at middle-age and overall lifespan. The moderately overweight dogs were unlikely to live beyond twelve years of age. Obesity problems in our pets is not restricted to just dogs and cats. We see a lot of health problems in pet birds due to over feeding seed diets that result in obesity. Small “pocket” pets such as ferrets, rabbits, rats and mice can also become obese. On the other end of the spectrum, obesity in horses also causes significant health issues.

            The first step in fighting obesity is in recognizing it. Various body conditioning systems have been developed to help us asses our pets. Many of the major food company websites will have charts showing ideal body weights and how to score your pet. In general we should be able to feel the ribs easily, but not see them. There should be a visible waist between the last of the ribs and the hips when viewed from above, and an angle to the abdomen from the ribs up towards the hips when viewed from the side. Overweight animals are typically less active. They may be reluctant on stairs or when jumping, and may pant more heavily after brief exercise.

            The good news is obesity is a treatable disease! Most pets can lose weight with a few simple changes in their lifestyle. Increasing the amount of exercise is most important. Two brisk thirty minute walks or play-times twice a day is great for most dog breeds. If your dog is significantly overweight, gradually increasing the amount of exercise over time will help prevent soreness and overexertion. Playing with your cat using string, laser pointers, etc. for ten to fifteen minutes a day will get their metabolism going and weight loss started. Exercising your pet will also have the benefit of getting you out for more exercise.

            The second component to weight loss is diet. We have direct control over our pets food intake, so can make significant changes if needed. Treats and table scraps are usually the main problem. Eliminating them altogether can make a big difference. Treats such as carrots, broccoli, apple slices, ice cubes, or low-calories biscuits can be used in place of higher calories treats. It can be hard to stop from giving treats, but remember that you are doing it because it is better for your pet and will lead to a longer, healthier life. There are also a large variety of weight loss or low calories pet foods available. Talk to your veterinarian about the different choices and what would be right for your dog or cat. Measuring the amount of food is also important so that the amount being fed is consistent. Use a measuring cup as your food scoop.

            Overweight and obese pets are a major problem, but luckily one that can be easily managed at home with a few healthy changes. There are a number of medical conditions that can result in obesity, so if your pet is having trouble losing weight, being examined by a veterinarian is recommended. Helping your pet reach or maintain a healthy weight will result in a happier, healthier companion who will live longer!

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