It isn’t surprising that most people realize that obesity is a problem for humans, but this isn’t always extended to our furry, four-legged friends. In fact, Dr. Ernie Ward, who founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found, “22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese.” He goes on to say, “we’ve made fat pets the new normal.” I have experienced the other side of this concept – my neighbors and friends commonly comment on how my normal weight cat looks too skinny.
According to APOP’s 2011 survey, 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are overweight or obese. Many people don’t realize the seriousness of this problem- for example that obesity has been proven to shorten lifespan two years by Purina’s Lifespan Study. For me, this data was staggering. I decided to get aggressive about the handling of overweight and obese patients. My main purpose as a veterinarian is to provide the longest, healthiest lifespan possible to all of my patients, and I now have data that shows I can accomplish this goal simply through weight loss in those who are obese prone.
The good news is achieving weight loss in our pets can be a lot easier than achieving weight loss in ourselves, the bad news is we need to remember food does not equal love! The biggest barrier I face is the fact that pets are not purposely overfed, owners don’t realize they are overfeeding in the first place. “He won’t eat dog food” is common problem I hear, or “we recently stopped exercising as much.” In order to achieve weight loss, increased exercise is not always a requirement. It is, however, usually beneficial, but again not always a necessity. The best way in most pet obesity cases is to control the amount of calories going in, and to feed a proper, balanced diet with adequate nutrients and vitamins. Sometimes this can be accomplished by reducing the amount of a regular dog food, but sometimes in cases of extreme obesity we have to prescribe prescription diets in order to maintain balanced nutrients and protein in the face of restricted calories.
Obese animals are prone to the same physical ailments as humans are, such as diabetes, orthopedic disease, respiratory problems, high blood pressure, and heart and organ disease. This is a very serious situation, so if you think (or maybe if you aren’t sure) that your dog or cat is overweight or obese, contact your veterinarian for a consultation and weight loss plan. He or she can help make this an easy process. Sometimes we will need to rule out medical conditions, and we will definitely need and accurate weight and a body condition score to determine how much weight your pet might need to lose. You can get an idea about your pet’s body condition score by viewing the Purina Body Condition Score scale. There are a couple of different methods for body condition scoring, but this is the one that I use.
For more information, you can visit the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website at: http://www.petobesityprevention.com/, and the body condition score charts at: http://www.purinaveterinarydiets.com/resources/Files/dog_chart.pdf or http://www.purinaveterinarydiets.com/resources/Files/cat_chart.pdf