Pets are gaining weight. What do we do about it?
One source reports 30-55% of cats are obese, and 40% of dogs are overweight or obese. According to “The State of Pet Health” a collection of data from Banfield Pet Hospital’s Nationwide, there has been a 158% increase in dogs classified as obese, and a 169% increase in cats classified as obese over the past 10 years. That’s an enormous increase (pun intended)!
A pet is considered obese if the body weight is greater than 20% above the ideal body weight. A pet is considered overweight if the body weight is greater than 10-19% above the ideal body weight. Obesity is considered a chronic inflammatory disease. Adipocytes, or fat cells, actually do more than just make a pet chubby! They release hormones that are important in maintaining a healthy body. A certain amount of fat cells are needed for regular function. When these cells are in overabundance, they can actually end up not getting enough oxygen. This results in release of inflammatory mediators.
Overweight pets are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, renal disease, pancreatitis, tracheal collapse, intervertebral disc disease, cruciate ligament disease, and may have an increased risk of some cancers.
One theory is that pet owners are having a harder time recognizing an overweight pet, therefore more pets are allowed to become overweight. Once overweight, it is much more challenging to take the weight off. Furthermore, veterinarians tend to under diagnose obesity. An annual exam is a great time to discuss your pet’s body condition with your veterinarian.
What do we do about this growing epidemic?
- Note your pet’s body condition, and determine if a diet is needed! You can seek help from your veterinarian in this! (image from www.vetsupply.com)
- Avoid free feeding. Pets should get two to three meals per day. Pets who graze are more likely to be overweight.
- Don’t trust the bag! In general, pet food bags will overestimate how much food to feed per day. This is especially true for pets who are already overweight.
- Cats should eat a canned food. Feline metabolism requires a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Eating a dry cat food is the equivalent of a person eating only pasta and bread. The higher moisture content of canned food is also much better for total health of the cat.
- Keep snacks to a minimum, and choose treats wisely. Remember that two bites of hamburger to a 10 pound dog is the equivalent of a person eating two cheese burgers. Plain green beans are a good low Calorie alternative.
- Develop a plan. If your pet is overweight, it is important to discuss dieting with a veterinarian and develop a plan that will yield successful weight loss. The most important thing is to cut out all treats and “extras” and to encourage appropriate exercise.
- If you have a young pet, start good habits early! It’s easier to prevent obesity than to encourage your pet to lose weight. One of the greatest spikes in weight gain happens after the spay or neuter. Be conscious of your pet’s weight during the months that follow the neuter surgery, as a reduction in Calories may be needed!