Obesity is defined as an accumulation of excessive amounts of fat tissue in the body, and has been called the most common nutritional disease of dogs and cats. However, in the past 10 years, most clinicians and researchers have agreed that at least 33 percent of the dogs and 35 percent of cats presented to veterinary clinics are obese, and that the incidence is increasing as human obesity increases in the overall population. This statistic is important because obesity is not just the accumulation of large amounts of fat tissue, but is associated with important metabolic and hormonal changes in the body. These metabolic and hormonal changes are associated with a variety of conditions, including arthritis, difficulties in breathing, glucose intolerance and diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, decreased heat tolerance, some forms of cancer, and increased risk of anesthetic and surgical complications.
The causes of obesity are multifactorial, and there are many genetic and environmental factors, but obesity is ultimately related to energy imbalance: too many calories consumed or too few calories burned. One of these recognized factors is breed predisposition to obesity (like Retrievers, Mops and Dachshunds), and there are clearly other components, such as age, sex, and hormonal influences that play significant roles in the development of obesity.
Why Are So Many Pets Overweight?
Food = love? Food is often associated with love, and because we love our furry family members, we want to show them that love by giving them extra food, treats and sometimes food intended for human consumption, which is generally higher in calories and fat than pet food.
Lack of exercise. As we lead busier lives than ever before, many pet owners hope a run in the yard for Fido is enough exercise to keep him healthy. For most dogs, this isn’t adequate. Dogs require our participation and interaction. Some dogs love to swim, others prefer to fetch, and some breeds, especially herding breeds, do best with a physical job. For many dogs, a simple daily walk is all that is required for them to stay at their ideal body weight. Exercising a cat isn’t quite as simple. Most veterinarians agree that cats are healthiest and safest indoors, but an indoor-only kitty can become a lazy kitty, which can lead to weight gain. One way to exercise your indoor cat is to hide a small percentage of her food in a food puzzle or fooddispensing toy. Her innate prey drive will be activated as she “hunts” for her food, forcing her to be more active. Also, use the toys that require your cat to chase and jump.
Lack of pet owner knowledge or understanding. To complicate the pet obesity problem, many pet owners don’t know their pets are overweight. 90 percent of owners of overweight cats and 95 percent of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pets as falling within the normal weight range.
People don’t pack on the body weight overnight, and the same is true for our pets. Because weight gain is gradual, and we see our pets every day, it might sometimes be difficult to notice when a pet has become overweight. And for cats and small dogs especially, a few hundred grams can make a big difference.
How to Prevent Pet Obesity?
Your veterinarian plays an important role in the health of your pet and can help you keep your furry friend at a healthy weight. While pet owners generally don’t weigh their pets consistently, your pet will be weighed at each veterinary visit. If your veterinarian notices your pet’s weight is increasing, she should discuss it with you.
If your pet is already overweight, it is important to consult with your veterinarian about the proper way to help him get back into the healthy weight range. Crash diets aren’t healthy for anyone, but for cats especially a crash diet can trigger a sometimes-fatal liver disease.
Losing weight is never easy, but it can be done safely and effectively with assistance from your veterinary health care team.
Nevena Stefanovic studied at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Belgrade, Serbia and Wroclaw, Poland. Her primary interest are companion animals internal medicine and surgery. Nevena is now working as a veterinary surgeon at Animal Doctors International Clinic, HCMC.