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Published: Monday, June 11, 2012
Pets can become overweight, which can lead to health problems.
By DEVIN McCARTHY Animal Hospital of Nashua
Obesity is a topic we constantly hear about in the news, often linked with a myriad of health concerns. But is this something we really have to worry about in our pets?
It is estimated that 24-44 percent of pets in the United States are overweight. Certainly, they don’t fret about their appearances the way humans do, so is it really a big deal if your dog or cat has a few extra pounds? You may be surprised to know the answer is most definitely yes.
One of the clearest examples of this is a study done on Labrador retrievers. Half of the group was kept lean, and the other half was allowed to eat more and become overweight. The lean group lived an average of a whole two and a half years longer. Most of us want to have our friends with us as long as possible, but we want them to enjoy the years they have with us, right? So, why not let them eat a little more and be “happy” with the extra food, even if it means they don’t live as long? Well, there are other issues obesity can cause during their lifetime that outweigh the enjoyment they can get from extra food.
Arthritis is a disease that affects dogs and cats, causing them pain and discomfort in daily activities. Obesity can increase the severity of this disease by simply putting excess force on the joints and cartilage. In addition, fat tissue acts as a source of inflammation and worsens the swelling in joints. Imagine placing a back pack filled with 15 pounds of weights on an old arthritic dog and you get the picture. Just getting a few pounds off an arthritic pet can actually improve their lameness enough that they don’t need pain medications nearly as frequently. Diabetes, heat and exercise intolerance, heart and lung disease, pancreas and liver disease, and more serious complications are also health concerns of obesity.
Is your pet overweight?
To determine if a dog or cat is overweight is by their body condition score. Illustrations of this score can be found online, but there are number of things you can check yourself. You want to be able to easily feel each individual rib on the side of their chest. You also want to be able to see that the area behind their ribs, the “waist,” is slightly narrower than the chest area and tucks in on the sides and tucks up from their underside. A sign that they are too thin is when you see the lines of the rib bones or other areas becoming too boney.
How to control weight
If you think you may have a pet that is overweight, now what? Well, start simply, with diet and exercise. You may be surprised to know that many treats can have more calories than regular dog food. Treats should only be 10 percent or less of a pet’s daily caloric intake. Start by breaking treats into small bites and only give one at a time. An excellent alternative to dog treats are baby carrots, green beans and celery sticks. Feed your pets in at least two meals per day. Just like us, their metabolism is more active with frequent small meals as opposed to one big meal. Switching from a maintenance diet to a light or restricted calorie version can be helpful. Anytime you change diets with your pets, ensure you do so slowly over the course of a week to prevent upset stomach. You can also start by decreasing the amount fed by 10 percent.
Daily exercise is just as important. Walks around the block are easy for our dogs, but what about our indoor cats? Try engaging them with interactive toys, such as a laser pointer or a toy mouse on a string, for at least 10 minutes per day.
It is recommended you seek the advice of your veterinarian for a weight loss program for your pet. Sometimes a prescription diet is necessary. Track your success on a calendar. It can take many months for the pounds to come off, but we always want to see the numbers going in the right direction. It is not advisable for a pet to lose too much weight too fast, especially with cats. Make sure your goals and plan are safe for your pet by speaking with your veterinarian. Also, some pets can have an underlying disease that can predispose them to obesity, such as a low thyroid or Cushing’s disease, and this will need to be treated before weight loss is achievable.
Dr. Devin McCarthy, a general practitioner, grew up in Massachusetts and obtained her bachelor of science in pre-veterinary medicine at the University of New Hampshire and her doctor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. After graduating, she and her husband Doug spent time traveling across country. They ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where McCarthy joined a multi-doctor referral practice for five years. They then decided to explore the Pacific Northwest and moved to Bellingham, Wash. McCarthy practiced at two locally renowned clinics for two years. Finally, it was time to come back home to New England. McCarthy joined the Animal Hospital of Nashua in March 2012. McCarthy enjoys spending her free time with her husband, and their Australian shepherd, Brighton, and two cats, Mango and Kiwi. McCarthy is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association.