Love Your Pet...But Don't Love Him to Death

Our pets provide us unconditional love and companionship, and thus it is natural for us to want to spoil them in light of all the joy they bring us. As we all know, for many of our pets, a favorite pastime of theirs is to eat, and looking at those pleading innocent eyes as you eat dinner or experiencing your cat weaving between your ankles and meowing the moment you walk into the kitchen, it can be hard to resist the temptation to give them a little something. When we see them wanting more after having been fed a meal commensurate with the feeding guidelines of their pet food or the recommendation of your veterinarian, it can be tempting to offer them just a little bit more. But when we take this too far and the pet’s caloric intake grossly exceeds the amount which he burns, he then begins to put on excess weight and eventually begins to suffer from the most common disease in veterinary medicine, obesity.

As common as obesity is in people, it is perhaps more common in pets. 50% of all dogs fall into a body condition that is consistent with obesity, while an astonishing 70% of household cats are obese. While in the case of dogs and rarely in cats, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) can be a predisposing factor for obesity, the vast majority of pets that are obese are that way because owners over feed them.

Obesity is a very serious health concern. It stresses that cardiopulmonary (heart/lung) system leading to dangerous clot formations, enlarged heart, heart valve disease, and many other problems. Obesity puts excess stress on a musculoskeletal frame that is not meant to support such weight, and therefore is the number one cause for early onset arthritis, spinal disk herniation, and degenerative joint disease.

Diabetes in dogs and cats is another common sequel to chronic obesity. 95% of feline diabetes cases and 50% of canine diabetes cases are type II diabetics, which means that it was their excess body condition that led them to developing the disease. Many diabetics require regular insulin injections to regulate the disease, and diabetes itself can lead to many other diseases, such as cataracts, peripheral vascular disease, neuropathies (syndromes associated with the brain and nervous system), and kidney disease to name a few.

Some pet owners know their pet is obese but simply do not care, and have no problem with their pet living “fat and happy.” However, most pet owners have a change of heart when their pet comes in with a serious health condition that resulted from being obese, and while that pet may indeed be fat, I assure you that after preventable serious disease sets in, he is not so happy.

Many other pet owners are either in denial about their pets’ obesity problems, or they simply think that their pets’ stout physique is normal. Thus, these folks are tend to be surprised when I tell them that their pets are obese in the exam room.

Whatever the case, too many pets are obese, and so much of what we see in veterinary practice is diseases and syndromes that are the direct result of this. While the best source of figuring our whether or not your pet is obese is a yearly well visit with your veterinarian, there are some steps you can take to minimize the tendency to gain excess weight.

- Avoid grocery store and superstore pet foods. These foods are generally of poor quality to begin with, but are loaded with too much filler and simple carbohydrate for dogs and cats. However, since pet stores are just as guilty of carrying poorer quality pet foods loaded with simple carbohydrate and filler, seek out diets that are AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) certified.

- Once you select an appropriate AAFCO certified diet, be certain to feed the amount of food specified by the label AND NO MORE.

- Do not feed the pet’s daily feeding requirement all in one serving once a day. Dividing their daily requirement into 2 equal feedings aids in optimal digestion and tends to facilitate a higher basal metabolic rate.

- Regular exercise is helpful. This maintains muscle tone and burns calories. For cats that most owners cannot walk on a leash, try getting the kitty to chase a laser pointer and engage him with cat toys.

- If there is persistent weight gain despite normal feeding and regular exercise, try a commercial, AAFCO certified weight control diet.

- If all fails and pets remain obese despite doing everything right, consider thyroid testing.

- If thyroid testing ultimately reveals no underlying thyroid disease and you have made a concerted effort to curb portions, restrict treats and table food, and feed an AAFCO certified weight control diet, then consider feeding a veterinary prescription grade weight reduction pet food.

Whatever you do, do not take pet obesity lightly…it is a serious health concern and must be prevented and/or addressed accordingly. 

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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