Has one of the veterinarians at OCVH, FVH or NPVH said that your beloved pet is overweight?
Did you know that 55% of dogs and 54% of cats in theUnited Statesare considered overweight or obese? That is a tremendous number! So while your veterinarian may make a passing comment about “Rex
eating a few less treats” or “we need to get Fluffy a treadmill”, there are real medical reasons why we are concerned for your furry family member!
PRIMARY RISKS OF EXCESS WEIGHT IN PETS:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart and Respiratory Disease
- Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
- Kidney Disease
- Decrease life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
These are very real medical problems that could potentially shorten an overweight pet’s lifespan up to 912 days. That is a lot of quality time missed! No one wants to hear that their pet is overweight, but we as veterinarians are responsible for making the patient our number one priority. With the exception of a few medical problems that can slow metabolism and some medications that enhance appetite, the most common cause of pet obesity is the owner themselves. Food is love, right?? NO! Let’s find another way to show it!
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PET IS OVERWEIGHT
The first step towards helping your furry friend battle a weight problem is to admit that there is a problem to begin with. Schedule an examination with your veterinarian, and ask them candidly about what “Cuddles’ ideal weight should be”. During the history part of the examination we will ask about any medications that the pet may be taking. Corticosteroid medications (such as prednisone, Vetalog, and Temaril-P) notoriously increase appetite and can have an influence on weight gain. If there has been unexpected weight gain, your veterinarian will likely recommend some baseline blood tests, to make sure that there is no medical cause for weight gain, such as hypothyroidism.
If blood work does not reveal any causes for weight gain, then it is time to examine the diet. To put it simply, an obese animal is taking markedly more calories than they are burning off, leading to the weight gain. There are two factors that we as the human owners have direct control over:
1) How many calories they eat
DIET (And I mean everything, not just the dog food)
When I ask an owner what their pet is eating, I often hear “Science Diet Healthy Weight”, or something of the like. I usually follow that up with “…is that all?” More often than not is followed up with a list of “small amounts of daily treats and food off of the table.” I would say that the great majority of overweight dogs we treat at our hospitals are fed table food supplementing their dog food. Pet owners do not realize that these small amounts of treats and table food are adding a surprising number of calories! Another problem with diet is portion size. The average pet owner puts food in the bowl without measuring exactly how much is going in. When I ask how much of a particular food someone is feeding, I often hear “2 cups” or something similar. Often this is not a measuring cup that is being used, but some other sized-cup that can frequently be at least 2-3 cups on its own. Our hospitals are equipped with FREE pet food measuring cups to assist you in providing the correct amount of food to your dog or cat, pick one up next time you come to visit!
Cats often have a different type of problem leading to obesity. Unlike dogs, who can typically be trained to become “meal feeders” (eating their meal in one sitting), cats are often “free feeders” or “grazers” that pick and choose as they please. In multiple cat households it often becomes virtually impossible to provide a certain amount of calories to any one particular cat, since the community food bowl is never empty. This is a challenge as veterinarians that we encounter often.
The bottom line with pet food, treats and table food is that often changes need to be made. The hardest change is often changing the perception as an owner that you are “depriving” your beloved friend from a well-deserved treat. As a caretaker you must take the approach of “I want to have you around and healthy as long as I can, so your doctor thinks we need to make some changes”. Speak to your veterinarian about some healthy treat ideas, such as baby carrots or frozen green beans, or some management changes that may prevent Bella from begging at the table while your family is eating.
TREATMENT AIDS FOR OBESITY:
- Stop table food and excessive treats. Make sure you are not over-feeding your pet.
- Therapeutic Diets. There are several prescription diets that are designed for weight loss. Unlike commercial “light” or “healthy weight” formulas, the prescription foods have an even greater calorie restriction, or in the case of onefood can up-regulate the gene for metabolism, which in turn “burns more calories”. Hills Prescription Diet R/D and W/D are both calorie-restricted and can be used to promote weight loss while inducing satiety. Hills Prescription Metabolic Diet is a relatively new food that up-regulates the gene for metabolism. Higher metabolism means weight is accomplished by burning more calories. Please contact your veterinarian for more information about these diets and which one would be best for your pet.
- Slentrol. Prescription medication that makes a dog to be “less hungry,” allowing the owners to feed less calories without the pet seeming hungry all the time.
- More exercise! You can look into dog parks, of course, but even more frequent or longer walks could make a big difference. Not only are you improving the medical state of your beloved companion, but you can also increase your bond with them. Of course, you will get the added health affect of exercise too! Don’t forget about swimming for dogs, as well. With cats, try using a laser-pointer to get them to chase around the house.
William Danowitz DVM