Is Fluffy looking a bit flabby? Is Rex becoming rotund? Unfortunately, obesity is an all-to-common issue in pets today. Obesity can lead to a number of significant health concerns. In this article I will review obesity, what can lead to it, what are the hazards of being overweight, and what you can do to help your pet get back to and maintain a healthy weight.
How can you tell if your pet is overweight? As we know, pets come in all shapes and sizes. Looking at your pet’s general body condition score can help you determine whether he or she is at an idea weight, under-conditioned (under weight), or over-conditioned (overweight). Hill’s Science Diet has a very useful scoring system which focuses on the pets overall appearance.
Multiple factors can lead to obesity in pets. Some of the most common are free-choice feeding, or food left out continuously, lack of measuring/improper measurement of daily caloric intake, over treating/food given by children, slowing of metabolism (neutering or certain endocrine diseases), and lack of regular exercise.
As with humans, obesity in pets can lead to other diseases. The daily wear and tear of the joints can increase in overweight pets, leading to faster degeneration of the joint environment. This can also cause joint pain, which can lead to lack of mobility and further weight gain. Obesity can also lead to insulin resistance, the driving force of Diabetes Mellitus. Being overweight can have a detrimental effect on the respiratory system, as fat deposits in body cavities and under the skin can make expanding the lungs difficult. This can contribute to cough development, increase the risk of overheating, and increase the risks during surgical/anesthetic events where oxygen and other gas exchanges are concerned. Ultimately, studies have shown that obesity can reduce your pet’s life span.
So what can we as pet owners do to combat obesity? First eliminate free access to food at all times. Measure the daily allotted amount of food (which in obese patients may need to be a prescription diet) and feed in meals. Highly regulate or even avoid treats altogether. Many commercially available treats tend to be high in fat content and could quickly add up to a significant increase in daily calorie intake.
Encourage regular, daily exercise. Walking, running, swimming, playing ball, whatever your pet likes. If your pet loves to eat, utilize food to encourage exercise. Food puzzles and interactive toys can often get even the most sedentary pet up and moving! Create a goal weight with your veterinarian’s input and schedule regular weigh-ins. Screening for endocrine diseases, like hypothyroid or Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), should be considered if these steps are taken and weight loss does not occur. These hormonal diseases can lead to weight gain.
Keeping our pets at the ideal weight can sometimes be challenging but by doing so we can hopefully avoid a variety potential harmful effects and extend the time we have with our pets.—Peter Olson, DVM
Peter Olson, DVM, is a 2007 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his wife Beth share their home with two dogs, two cats, four turtles and a Russian Tortoise.