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Pet Obesity: Facts and Risks

on November 3, 2015
Posted in Cats

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of American pets are estimated to be obese. The Canadian Veterinary Medical association estimates that around 60% of Canadian pets are obese or overweight. Being overweight or obese puts pets at significant risk for many health problems and shorter lives. The unfortunate thing is that fat is not an innocent substance that simply hangs around in undesirable places. It creates excess stress on the joints.  Additionally, fatty tissue secretes hormones and other factors that cause inflammation in the body. This chronic state of inflammation predisposes the pet to numerous diseases.

Why Are so Many Pets Obese?

Four of the most common reasons that pets become overweight are:

1. They are on the wrong diet.

There are many different ways to feed a dog or cat. Some dogs and cats do better with home prepared food, or a raw diet. Others with canned food or kibble.  The important thing to remember is that a diet needs to be well balanced for the pet and be fed to the appropriate calorie level. An inactive adult dog or cat does not need puppy and kitten food as this will be too high in calories. Senior dogs and cats may require special diets geared toward their activity levels and special needs. Protein requirements vary with age and exercise.  It’s important that you check with your veterinarian to determine what type of diet may be best for your pet.

2. They are overfed.

It can be quite easy to overfeed a pet when we look at their food portion sizes and judge them next to our own. There is also a great variation in the calories per cup of dry food depending on the protein source and type of food. The average dry dog food contains around 300 calories (kcal) per cup, however most grain free varieties are over 400 calories per cup. Switching to a grain free diet can cause weight gain if the portion size is not adjusted.  Most commercial food containers list suggested amounts for dogs and cats of varying sizes. However, your individual pet may require more or less than the recommended amount depending on lifestyle and genetic components. Your veterinarian can help you calculate an ideal calorie-per-day target based on lean body mass. Remember, if you are giving your pet treats throughout the day, which adds to the calorie count, you may need to decrease the regular meal portion to compensate.

3. They are given too many treats.

It’s easy to overdo it on treats. After all, our pets love them and we love to make our pets happy. If you’re giving treats throughout the day, you might be surprised at the number of calories this adds per day. Even small amounts of healthy food has calories which must be taken into account. Be sure to evaluate the calories in all the treats you are using for your pet. Instead of special treats, use some of your dog’s regular food reserved from the daily allotment and give that instead when you want to give a treat or reward. Or better yet, use praise and pats instead of treats. After all, your pet loves the attention from you  more than the specific treat.

4. They are not exercised enough.

Although weight loss in dogs is 80% about nutrition and only 20 % about exercise, many dogs do not get walked outside or played with enough due to busy schedules and time constraints. It can be difficult to exercise a cat. Make it a priority to schedule time to walk and play with your dog. It will be good for the dog and extra exercise for you, not to mention a great stress-reliever. If you have a cat, schedule in at least one 15-minute play session every day. Use throw-toys and wand-type toys to encourage movement. You can also divide your cat’s food into multiple bowls and scatter them around the house so more movement is required to find them. Both dogs and cats can benefit from the use of food balls — interactive toys that dispense food in a measured amount. These toys are designed to release only a small amount of food at a time in a measured amount. The pet has to chase the food ball around to get the kibble out, thus encouraging exercise.

How Can I Tell If My Pet Is Overweight?

It can be surprising to learn from your veterinarian that your pet is overweight. After all, so many other pets are overweight that it’s hard for a layperson to judge what’s normal anymore. Your pet, when viewed from the top, should have an hourglass appearance, with the hips being the widest point. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily without pushing too hard. If you are in doubt, be sure to ask your veterinarian.

What Are the Possible Health Risks for Overweight Pets?

Many conditions are caused by or exacerbated by obesity. Some of the more common and serious ones include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Ligament injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture
  • Skin infections
  • Breathing problems
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes mellitus

How Can I Help My Pet Lose Weight?

Increased exercise and an adjustment in the number and type of treats may be all that is required to help overweight animals begin to lose weight. However, your pet may require a change in diet or a reduction in the amount of food that is given daily. Cats can develop a life-threatening type of liver failure if they lose weight too quickly although dogs do not have this problem. Never skip feeding entirely as a way to help pets lose weight. Always consult your veterinarian before making exercise or diet changes for your pet.

Read also: Liver Disease In Cats

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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