Everyone knows that increasing trends in obesity in humans is a serious concern in today’s society. It should be no surprise that pet obesity is also on the rise and just as concerning to those of us in the pet care industry. A 2012 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that 53% of pet dogs and 58% of pet cats are reported as overweight or obese. That translates to 37 million dogs and 43 million cats!
Pets are considered overweight if they are 15-29% over their ideal body weight. They are considered obese if they are 30% or more over their ideal body weight. Of course, every breed is different and there are different body types within breeds so along with ideal body weight, we also have to look at the pet and their body condition. Part of every annual physical exam includes assessment of a pet’s body condition score. There are two systems used, we use the 1-5 scale, where 3 would be the ideal. We arrive at a score evaluating if the pet has an abdominal tuck (what you might think of as a waistline) when looking from above the pet and from the side. We also want to be able to feel their ribs, but not see them. If there is too much “padding” your pet probably has a little too much weight.
Health risks associated with being overweight are similar to those seen in people. Arthritis risk is increased in overweight pets due to additional stress on joints. Diabetes risk is also increased in overweight pets, especially male cats. Obesity and being fed a high-fat diet can increase the risks of pancreatic inflammation. Just as in people, obesity can lead to high blood pressure which can have secondary complications with the kidney and eyes. Respiratory problems and exercise intolerance are common in overweight pets. Of course, having excess weight decreases lifespan, and when you think of it, we don’t have our pets very long, if they have weight issues and it decreases their lifespan 1-2 years, that is a significant part of an average pet’s lifespan, 10-15%!
Okay, so what do we do? I wish I could say I have the easy answer, but there isn’t one. It is a basic formula, fewer calories in and more calories out. Of course, we have to start with diet, and calculate the energy needs of your pet and how much to feed. I find it easier to use a reduced calorie, weight loss diet, so the pet still gets some volume/stomach fill. There are many options and it is best to work with your vet to decide what will work best for you pet. It is important to remember, that cats do not do well if they stop eating for even just a few days. This can lead to some serious liver problems, so when putting your cat on a “diet” remember they need to eat something every day. Also, be patient, the weight loss will take time, cats can lose about one-half pound a month and dogs between 3-5% of their body weight a month.
Activity can have many forms, but the bottom line is, if your pet is overweight, it needs more exercise. Get your cat to chase a toy, I love playing with my cat with the bird on a fishing pole. Take your dog for a walk, or a swim. Start with 10 minutes twice daily, you both will enjoy it. Make eating a little more work using special feeders and food puzzles.
There is a great online resource petobesityprevention.com, I’ve put the link on my website. It has great information to help you take the next step to get your pet to a healthy weight. As usual, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions for future articles you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website wildernessvet.com or our Facebook page.