Pet Obesity Risks and Prevention

Many people are aware of the obesity epidemic in the American human population, but did you know that over 50% of dogs and cats are overweight? As the relationship with our pets has changed over time, dogs and cats have received improved nutrition and spend more time lounging around the house. What can we do as owners to prevent pet obesity?

Pet obesity can cause major health issues, just like it can for humans. While 58% of the pet population is overweight, an alarming 25% is considered obese (or are storing extra fat within their bodies). However, most owners don’t realize that their pet is overweight. You should not be able to see your pets ribs, but you should be able to feel them when you stroke down their sides. They should also have a detectable waist line that appears as a slight indentation from above.  Veterinarians utilize a body condition scoring system to rate how thin or heavy a pet is. There are two different scoring systems: one ranks pets on a scale of 1 to 5, while the other uses a scale of 1 to 9. The vet looks for fat stored in key areas: over the ribs, at the base of the tail, around the neck and chest. Extra fat stored in these areas can lead to many potential health issues.  Other noticeable signs that your pet is overweight is an unkept coat around their anal area and mid-line. Cats are typically very tidy animals; a big cat with a greasy patch, matting fur, or flaking skin indicates they can’t reach their body to properly groom. Some owners may see their pudgy pooch or fluffy feline as cute; however, obesity can lead to major health concerns. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory compromise  can develop as a direct effect of carrying around extra fat. Obesity can also cause mobility issues due to osteoarthritis, ruptured ligaments, and extra weight on the joints. Obese pets can also suffer from a lack of energy which can lead to exercise intolerance and a reduced life span.

Like people, sticking to a healthy weight-loss plan can be challenging. With that in mind, preventing pet obesity is the easiest option. Certain breeds of dogs like beagles, Labrador retrievers, pugs, and English bulldogs are more susceptible to storing extra fat and becoming overweight. Brachiocephalic breeds (short faced animals) also have a harder time getting enough exercise due to breathing issues.  Keeping pets active can be a big combatant to weight gain.  Most people think about taking the dog for an extra walk or letting them run off leash, but keeping cats active is also very important. Engage them in chasing games by tying a toy to a string and allowing them to catch it. Encourage them to climb a cat tree or use a scratching post.  Teach them how to perform tricks for low-calorie treats.  Use a feeding toy that they have to interact with to get kibble out.  (Be sure to account for any treats being given into their overall feeding plan.) What should they be eating to keep them from getting overweight?  A 9-11 pound cat at an ideal body condition should consume 250-290 calories per day. Since the size of dogs can vary so greatly, look up what your dog should consume based on size and breed. For example, a 10 pound dog needs about 470 calories per day, while a 40 pound dog can eat 750 calories per day, and an 80 pound dog can take in 1250 calories per day without gaining weight.

So what should you do if your pet is already overweight? The first step is to work with your veterinarian to develop a weight-loss plan that includes both diet and exercise. However, in obese animals increasing activity can be difficult because conditions like osteoarthritis make movement more painful. If regular movements are painful for your pet, discuss pain management options with your veterinarian.  A dog should lose about 2% of their body weight each week.  Cats should lose about one pound per month.  Utilize regular weight checks to adjust the plan. When first starting, feeding smaller meals more frequently throughout the day seems to give the best results. Since the pets are eating more often, they tend to feel full for longer.  It also gives the added benefit of increasing their metabolism to help them burn calories faster. Another option is to reduce the overall amount you feed your pet; check with your veterinarian to see what percent the diet should be reduced by. The final option would be to feed a lower calorie diet.  In order to be effective, portion control is still important. The volume of the lower calorie food should be about the same as the old diet so the pets feel full for longer.

We hope you find these tips helpful for keeping your pet lean and healthy for many years to come. Remember, portion control and exercise are our biggest tools to preventing pet obesity. If you have questions or would like more information on pet obesity, contact us!

Helpful Links:
Pet Nutrition Alliance Website, http://www.petnutritionalliance.org
Hill’s Pet Nutrition: How to Tell if your Pet is Overweight, http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html