How many of you have dogs or cats that help themselves to the cookie jar to grab those delicious chocolate chunk cookies or even their own yummy treats? How about the freezer to munch on that ice cream straight out of the container? Well, given how we often like to think that our pets mimic our personalities and behaviors, it should come as no surprise that obesity is the most common nutritional disorder affecting dogs and cats in the United States! In fact, it has been estimated that over 55% of dogs and 60% cats in this country are overweight or, worse yet, obese. There are many potential causes of obesity, but we know the importance of proper diet and exercise in maintaining a healthy weight. Much of the obesity we see in our pets is a result of the same simple practice that often leads to our own obesity—eating too much and exercising too little! We are what we eat, and so too are our pets! The difference is we are in absolute control of what we stuff into our own mouths, our pets, however, don’t have that power—they have to rely on us for what they eat!
“Overweight” is defined as an accumulation of excess body fat resulting in body weights over 15% of optimum, and “Obesity” is when a patient’s body weight is upwards of 25-30% greater than optimum. These conditions can potentially impair the health, quality of life, and life span of affected pets—in fact it has been estimated that a pet of optimal weight will live 2 to 2 ½ years longer than its obese counterpart. The incidence of obesity seems to increase with age and with spaying and neutering because there is a reduction of both metabolic rate and physical activity associated with both of these conditions. It is especially important to keep your puppies and kittens lean because 70% of obese puppies and kittens grow up to be obese dogs and cats!
Some breeds of dogs like Labrador retrievers, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Welsh corgis, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles seem to be genetically predisposed to excessive weight gain. Though not nearly as common as we would like to think, there are a few disease conditions in animals that may be associated with excess weight gain, such as hypothyroidism, which is an under secretion of the thyroid gland; hyperadrenocorticism, an over-secretion of the adrenal gland, and diabetes mellitus. Overweight dogs are often predisposed to a variety of conditions such as joint and locomotor problems, ruptured cruciate ligaments, dyspnea characterized by a shortness of breath, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, impaired reproductive efficiency, problems during whelping and queening, increased incidence of diabetes mellitus, non-allergic skin conditions, as well as an increased incidence of certain cancers.
As with most of us, it is a lot easier to put the weight on than it is to take it off. Helping our pets lose weight is often quite a challenge. Pet owner compliance is essential to a successful weight reduction program, and prior to initiation of a weight control program, your pet should have a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian. An ideal goal for weight loss is approximately 1% of current body weight per week, or approximately 3.5 to 4% per month. Cats should be monitored closely because rapid weight loss can lead to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially fatal fatty infiltration of the liver.
Although a dog or cat on a weight reduction program should receive a restricted amount of calories, they still need optimal amounts of other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. Weight loss may actually increase the need for these nutrients. For an effective weight loss program, the basic goal is to reduce caloric intake and increase exercise. With the advent of Hi-tech entering the pet and veterinary markets, there are some great automatic feeders available which can control the amount of food being offered, can be controlled and monitored by your phones, and can even be individualized so only the pet needing the restrictions will have access to the controlled diet, and blocked from having access to other pets’ food! Really cool stuff!! Ideally, with the help of your veterinarian, you want to determine your pet’s caloric intake at its optimal weight based on your pet’s RER (Resting Energy Requirement), and for reduction you’ll want to feed only about 80% of its RER. Trust me—easier said than done!!
If you need a little help, speak to a veterinarian on the Airvet app to discuss some specific goals and how you can get there.