Obesity exists when body weight exceeds the optimum for the individual pet by 15 % or more. Obesity is the most common nutritional disease in dogs and cats. It is estimated that as many as 54% of all dogs and at least 59% of all cats are overweight. Overfed pets become overweight pets, and this is a persistent medical issue in veterinary medicine. With Americans’ diets becoming worse in recent history, it’s no surprise that similar feeding habits have caused our pets to become overweight and obese, as well. Obesity is more common with advancing age and occurs more often in females than males. It often occurs more frequently in fixed pets.
If you’re not sure what your pet’s optimum weight is, the most practical way of evaluating your pet is to check the amount of fat over his or her rib cage. Place your hands on your pet’s rib cage with your thumbs on his back. If the ribs are easily felt, your pet is considered to be normal weight. If you can feel fat between the ribs and skin or the ribs are difficult to feel, your pet is overweight. If the ribs cannot be felt, your pet is obese. In some pets, particularly cats, a large abdomen that hangs down or protrudes to the sides indicates obesity. Your veterinarian should confirm this judgment of your pet’s weight status. Your veterinarian will rule out other medical conditions that might look like obesity, such as hypothyroidism. It is important to confirm that your pet is really overweight and not just showing signs of heart, kidney, or glandular disease.
The funny thing is that no animals, except maybe misbehaving ones, feed themselves – it takes an owner to put out the pet’s food. Because of this, we can control obesity in pets by only providing them with their dietary requirements. Overfeeding and lack of exercise can cause obesity, so controlling our pet’s caloric intake to match its lifestyle can prevent it. In particular with cats, leaving food out all the time leads to obesity. Bored animals tend to graze all day long when, in reality, they may only need to eat once daily.
Heavy animals are sometimes not recognized as carrying too many pounds until your veterinarian points it out. You may not notice that your pet is putting on weight on a day-to-day basis, but over a period of time this can add up. Veterinarians and their staff are trained to be able to advise owners of what to feed, how much to feed, and how often to feed, in order to maintain your animal’s ideal weight. In this day and age, there are some excellent formulated diets available that contain all the protein, calories, minerals and vitamins your pet needs for maximum performance or laying around. If your pet needs to lose weight, consult with your veterinarian before starting your pet’s new diet.
Being overweight may cause many problems, such as heart disorders, arthritis, diabetes, some skin diseases, and a lazy pet. Obese dogs and cats have higher incidences of skeletal and cardiac problems, diabetes, impaired reproductive efficiency and risks associated with anesthesia and surgery. Most studies in human beings and animals support the concept that obesity shortens life.
Sometimes, cutting out treats may be enough, depending on how overweight your pet is. Some animals are more susceptible to gaining weight than others; this includes pets that have been neutered, older pets, and certain individuals with a genetic tendency towards obesity. Pets belonging to older people are frequently overfed, as they are the center of their attention. It is more difficult to achieve weight loss when the animal has gained the extra pounds. By reducing or eliminating table scraps, monitoring serving size, and increasing the amount of exercise your pet gets may help achieve this goal. With the help of your veterinarian, design a weight loss program for your pet’s individual needs and shed those extra pounds.
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call 513-797-PETS (7387).