Fitness Is for Pets, Too!

Fat Eunice

Obesity affects a large number of the adult dogs and cats who enter our clinic. It mirrors what is going on in society in general and is a cause of significant disease in our pets.

Overfeeding your pet is actually the primary cause of pet disease. This can easily occur as a young and active pet slows down in middle and older age, yet we do not decrease the amount of food it eats on average. Leaving food out continuously to prevent pet boredom while you are gone, known as “free choice or ad libitum” feeding, can contribute to pet obesity. Some pets do well with this type of feeding, some do not.

Rewarding your pet with treats and table scraps is an overlooked cause. Using treats for behavioral modification is very common and leads to an excess of calories. Cats are prone to obesity because of their lifestyle of sleeping most of their day and the need for fewer calories as they age. 

Certain dog breeds are prone to obesity and require extra diligence: retrievers, pugs, Chihuahuas, beagles, terriers, shelties, dachshunds, cockers and bassets. Lapdogs are at increased risk since owners carry them often, and they are so cute and in such close proximity to them that they get those extra human snacks. If you have several dogs, dominance behavior by an individual dog can cause one dog to eat more, although competition in general by all the dogs can lead to eating more!

Some pets with certain disease processes might become overweight. The classic one is hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) in dogs. Some breeds are subject to this easily diagnosed and treated malady. To learn more follow this link on hypothyroidism on our website.

Obesity is readily diagnosed through a physical exam. Your pet’s weight is used in combination with a veterinarian passing his or her hands over your animal’s body, particularly the ribs. We might use what is called a body condition score. The lower numbers indicate an underweight pet, middle numbers are optimum weight, and higher numbers indicate obesity.

You should just be able to feel the ridges of the rib bones if your pet is proper weight, although this varies among breeds of dogs. We will also look at the flank and hindquarters for proper proportions. If by chance we take a radiograph of your pet, we can see the excess fat under the skin and in the thorax or abdomen.

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Radiograph of obese cat

Pets that are obese cannot groom properly (important to cats), are unable to walk or run far because of overheating or discomfort, and are not active. Older pets are particularly affected if they have to carry extra weight and are arthritic. Pets with heart and lung problems will seriously feel the added weight. Just as with people, cancer is at a significantly higher risk. Obese pets are also more prone to disk disease or cruciate ligament rupture, and both of these are painful, costly and debilitating.

Obese pets are especially prone to two serious and chronic diseases. These are diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver). To learn about these serious diseases, follow these links-

Unless a specific medical problem is present, which is the exception and not the rule, treatment revolves around decreasing caloric intake and increasing activity. Higher-fiber foods that help satisfy your pet’s appetite (and calm a screaming cat or begging dog) are available and provide only the calories that are needed.

Once a vet gives your obese pet an ideal weight, it should lose 1 percent of its body weight each week until the desired weight is achieved. When your pet reaches its ideal weight, it will probably become more active, which makes it even easier to keep the weight off. 

Let’s face it, we all have pets for the pleasure they give us, and watching them eat is one of these pleasures. If you balance this with the correct amount of calories, you can keep them healthy and enjoy them at the same time. Pets that are at their ideal weight will live longer and healthier lives. Take a look at your pet today and decide if it might be overweight and in need of a long-term plan to shed those extra pounds and keep them off.



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