Obesity in Pets
Obesity in pets has become a growing concern worldwide and can have major implications on the health and welfare of an animal. It is estimated that 30-40% of our nations pets are now overweight and this figure continues to grow.
A few of the issues that the obese pet may eventually contend with include:
- Arthritis: The stress placed on joints by this excess weight results in faster progression of cartilage degeneration and pain. If it often a vicious cycle where joint pain results in further immobility which in turn leads to further weight gain.
- Reduced Life Span: A study was performed using two groups of Labradors where one group was feed on demand while the other was given a regimented diet. The group that was fed on demand lived on average 2.5yrs less than that group that was kept at a normal body condition.
- Cardiorespiratory disease – Fatty deposits in the chest and around the heart results in more effort being required to take deep breaths as well as an impaired ability of the heart to maintain its rhythm and regulate blood pressure.
- Diabetes Mellitus – “Type 2 Diabetes” in cats is often a consequence of excess body fat resulting in insulin resistance. Studies have shown that obese cats have a 50% reduction in insulin sensitivity making them more prone to diabetes.
- Skin problems – In cats a common reason for skin disease is a physical inability to groom themselves. As this is a vital part of maintaining skin health, overweight cats often get matts, bacterial and fungal infections and various forms of dermatitis. This often resolves with weight reduction.
What causes obesity?
Obesity is a multifactorial disease that arises from a combination of genetic, environmental and owner contributions.
Some animals simply have genes that predispose them to obesity. This is most commonly seen in dogs, where breeds such as Labradors, Beagles, Rottweilers and Cocker Spaniels tend to be overrepresented.
It has been shown that as animals get older, they become much more prone to weight gain. 70% of dogs aged 9-12yrs are overweight compared to cats, who face the greatest risk between 5-11yrs old.
Neutering has countless benefits to health, behaviour and society. However the hormonal changes result in the tendency to form more fat deposits and slow down metabolism. This can be countered with diet, a good feeding regime and daily exercise.
Feeding is one of the primary factors that contribute to obesity and is one of the factors in our control as owners. Animals have a defined energy requirement and when this requirement is exceeded, then this energy is stored as fat. Common ways in which this happens is through ad libitum feeding, where free access to food is provided at all times so pets may eat whenever it suits them.
Pets with lower activity levels put weight on more readily. In dogs, duration of exercise is an important factor in how much energy is consumed and this will vary on the individual living situation. A dog living in an apartment setting will require much higher levels of activity than one with free access on a farm. Similarly with cats, obesity is most commonly seen in those with a primarily indoor lifestyle.
With all these associated causes and risks of obesity, it is easy to see how we are killing our pets with kindness.
So what can be done?
Firstly, we need to determine whether an animal is overweight or obese and by what degree. This will determine how severe its condition is and how fast it can safely lose weight. It is also important to ensure that an animal’s weight is not a result of some other disease process such as thyroid or adrenal problems.
In most cases of obesity, control over what food the pet has access to is a big factor. A premium prescription diet and feeding regime can be recommended that will actively ensure weight is being lost. In contrast, over the counter ‘light’ or ‘trim’ diets are for borderline pets or those pets at risk of becoming overweight and will attempt to ensure that no further weight is gained rather than provide active weight loss. Defined meals at allocated times allows you to control portion sizes and prevents ‘grazing’ or ‘snacking’ due to boredom.
It is also important to be aware of treats and scraps from the table. These are often higher in salts and fats to make them more palatable. As little as 4 treats can be enough to equal the energy content of an extra meals worth of fat.
It is important to have regular weigh ins to not only ensure that there is active weight loss but to make sure this weight loss isn’t too rapid. Dietary regimes will need to be altered as your pet’s weight changes.
Active exercise, playtime and interactive toys will increase the amount of energy used by an animal and less will go towards fatty deposition. Adult dogs should ideally get 60 minutes of exercise daily to maintain both physical and mental health.
At Franklin Vets we run Weight Management Programmes to help you keep your pet in trim. Call one of our clinics today to ask about this service.
Article By Dr. Ronny Rao BVSc