Dangers of an Obese Pet and How to Start the Weight Loss
Studies suggest that up to 40% of our pet dogs are overweight or obese. The statistics are similar for cats, and in both species, the effects of excess weight can be debilitating. Arthritis can make their daily walk uncomfortable, and they may find it hard to jump onto the couch for a cuddle. Overweight dogs and cats are more likely to develop diabetes, and they can suffer from infections in the folds of excess skin. Overweight dogs have a shorter lifespan than than their leaner counterparts so they don’t share their owners’ lives for as long as they could.
Causes of Obesity
There are some medical conditions that can cause weight gain in dogs, such as hyperthyroidism or Cushing’s Disease. However, an Australian study found that only 3% of dogs had such a reason for their generous waistlines. Most of them were overfed and/or under-exercised.
Cats are carnivores, and a high carbohydrate diet will lead to weight gain. It’s not easy to encourage a cat to exercise; after all, you can’t put a leash on them and take them for a run. Weight loss in cats is therefore more of a challenge than in dogs.
Is Your Pet Overweight?
Veterinarians use a body condition score to assess whether or not a dog or cat is carrying too much weight. This score ranges from 1 (very underweight, with prominent ribs and no fat over them) to 5 (unable to feel ribs, and saggy fat on the belly). Ideally, your pet should have a body score of around 3. You should be able to feel their ribs, and they should have a slight narrowing at the end of their ribcage, where their abdomen starts.
Weight Loss Programs for Pets
It’s not easy for people to lose weight, and it’s not any easier for our pets. It takes discipline on the part of their owner, and a commitment to resist those pleading brown eyes when they are asking for a treat!
The first step is to work out exactly how many calories your pet needs to eat each day. Your veterinarian can help you with this, and may recommend a prescription weight loss diet. These are particularly useful because if you reduce your pet’s food intake, you may cause a deficiency of some nutrients. Prescription diets are designed so that your dog or cat gets enough of these nutrients, while still cutting back their calorie intake.
It’s important with cats that their weight loss is slow and carefully managed by your veterinarian. If they lose a lot of weight quickly, they can develop fatty liver syndrome which can make them seriously ill.
Increasing exercise is also an important part of weight loss in our pets. However, extremely heavy dogs will struggle to go for longer walks. They are likely to become stiff and sore. In these cases, hydrotherapy is a great option. They can swim for longer periods of time, which exercises them without putting weight on their legs.
To exercise your cat, you can encourage them to chase a feather toy or a laser. Another good option is to put their food in small bowls throughout the house, so they have to walk more to get their dinner.
Obesity and its associated health problems are preventable diseases. You can prevent them by feeding your dog or cat “to condition”. This means you give them just enough food to keep them at a body score of 3/5. This may mean feeding less than is recommended on the packet of kibble but that’s fine. You can give them treats, but just watch their waistline. If you do this, your beloved companion is very likely to enjoy a longer and healthier life.Written by Dr. Audrey Harvey © September 29, 2011 Dr. Audrey Harvey is an Australian veterinarian who promotes health and fitness for dogs in her down time. To download free training programs, visit her blog, www.poochto5k.com