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Pets and Obesity

One of the things that still amazes me after many years in the veterinary profession is the attitude that even the very best clients have towards the body condition of their animals.  Most people become concerned and will actively seek veterinary help if they notice that their pet is losing weight.  The same cannot be said when the furrier members of the family begin to round out.  Whereas losing weight is seen as a problem or a sign of possible disease, gaining weight is same as ’funny’,’ cute’, or even as a sign of good health.  And yet we live in a society that is relatively obsessed with the human health and social benefits of not being overweight.  This is borne out by the recent proliferation of gyms, dieting and wellness centres, body toning clinics, and pseudo- pharmacies staffed by well- manicured ladies in pastel uniforms that sell products of unproven efficacy each claiming to be the best solution to finding that perfect physique that is there, hidden to a greater or lesser degree, within all of us.  But this concern with body shape is seldom transferred to pets.  Which is unfortunate because obesity  -  defined as having a body weight more than 20% of the optimum  -  confers the same health disadvantages and risks to your pet that it does to you.  Indeed the risks may be considered even greater for pets because the effects are concentrated within a shorter lifespan. The list of obesity – related conditions is long and scary, including heart, liver, and respiratory diseases, arthritis, spinal problems, heat stroke, pancreatitis, hormonal diseases such as diabetes, skin disease, and even cancer.  Obesity is a disease in its own right and seriously affects the quality of your pet’s life even before the secondary conditions occur. It has been identified as being the most common disease of companion animals and affects up to 30% of all cats and dogs.
So what can we do about obesity?  The first step is to recognise it. This can be difficult because of the huge variation in size and shapes of dogs and cats and the variation in opinion even amongst professionals about what constitutes ‘normal’ body condition.  A ’body condition score’ system from 1-5 has been devised with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being extremely fat. The optimum lies between 2.5 and 3.5. A simpler technique for deciding if your animal is too fat is to try to feel the ribs along either side of the chest. If the bones are hard to find you may assume your pet is overweight. For short haired breed you should also be able to see a definite waist’ when the animal is viewed from above – I find this is not a particularily useful technique in long-haired or fluffy – coated breeds. If you are in any doubt make an appointment at Dr. Hugh’s Veterinary Hospital or ask us about it at your next consultation.
Once we recognize obesity the hard work begins. Experience has shown that without a structured weight loss program and a proper weight loss diet most attempts at thinning down your pet fail, and may actually be detrimental. For example if you try to reduce the animals calorie intake by cutting back to one meal a day or by restricting the amount of a ‘standard’ pet food you may cause unwanted wide swings in blood sugar levels and deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals and protein – as well as having an unhappy permanently hungry pet to deal with. Also, in some cases the obesity is actually secondary to another underlying condition such as hormone disease or joint pain. As you know each pet is unique; one program does not suit them all, and the requirements of dogs and cats are very different.  Taking these factors into account it is always safer and more effective to make an appointment with us first. We can check the health of your pet, and together we can devise a plan that incorporates your pet’s lifestyle and life stage, the best food for them, a suitable rate of weight loss, the ideal target weight, and appropriate monitoring strategy for you and them. It is very rewarding to see how much happier, healthier and more active your pet can be when you successfully get them into the body condition they should be in.  Clever as they are it is not the pet that opens the tin, the food bag or the fridge door – at the end of the day your pets body condition is your decision and your responsibility. 

If you need advice about weight control in your pet call us on 23800612!