By Dr. Becker
The story of Myrle Horn and her dog Lacey is a sad one – and becoming more and more common these days.
Lacey, a white German Shepherd, spent the last year of her life barely able to walk due to obesity and hip dysplasia.
According to The New York Times, through the years Ms. Horn overfed Lacey because the dog "always wanted more," and didn't start limiting her food consumption until it became clear Lacey's weight was worsening her hip dysplasia.
"It was a horrible tragedy," said Ms. Horn, 79. "I had to have a vet come to the house to put Lacey down because I couldn't get her up and I couldn't get her out."
Thankfully for her next dog, Gypsy, Ms. Horn realized Lacey's obesity had seriously compromised her quality of life. Gypsy, also a white GSD, is kept at a trim 60 pounds thanks to Ms. Horn's strict attention to her diet. "The last year of Lacey's life was horrible," she says, "and I swore to Gypsy that I would never let her end up like that."
Tragic Consequences for Overweight and Obese Pets
I discuss the problem of overweight and obese cats and dogs quite often here at Mercola Healthy Pets, and I'm certainly not the only veterinarian who is concerned. "Seeing animals suffering from health conditions secondary to their obesity is a common situation," according to Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the New York ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital.
Obesity in pets results in many of the same diseases overweight humans suffer from, including arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and a significant reduction in both quantity and quality of life.
According to Petplan USA, a pet insurance carrier, the average cost of vet care for a diabetic dog or cat in 2011 was over $900. When obesity contributes to arthritis and cruciate ligament tears, the average cost to pet owners is around $2,000.
Just last year alone, insurance claims for pets with diabetes increased over 250 percent. Claims for heart disease rose over 30 percent, and claims for arthritic pets increased by nearly 350 percent. That's in just one year.
Some dog breeds are predisposed to orthopedic problems. But according to Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services at Petplan, orthopedic conditions are occurring in younger pets – and with greater severity – because so many animals are overweight. Dr. Benson, too, says it's not unusual to see dogs that have become nearly immobile from a combination of weight and joint or bone problems.
"The most heartbreaking thing is having to put a pet to sleep just because it can't mechanically get around anymore," he said. "They're otherwise alert and healthy, but their quality of life becomes so low that you have no choice but to put them to sleep."
Owners of Fat Pets Need to Wake Up Before It's Too Late
Some pet owners don't realize their dog or cat is overweight, or worse, obese. Others know their pet is too heavy, but for some reason find it amusing. Still other owners of fat pets don't seem to realize they are compromising the animal's health.
I've had to explain to more than one cat owner that the reason their pet's coat is a mess and there's litter or poop stuck in his fur is because the poor kitty is too fat to properly groom himself.
Dogs and cats are smaller than adult humans. Excess weight on a smaller body has more significant, more immediate consequences than added weight on a bigger body. And when you factor in the short lifespan of the average dog or cat, what you have is a pet whose already brief life will be cut even shorter, and the quality of that life will not be optimal as the animal develops the inevitable diseases that come with overweight and obesity.
Commit to Getting Your Pet to a Healthy Weight
If your dog or cat is too heavy, I hope you'll make a New Year's resolution to begin a program to get her safely down to a healthy weight. No one thing you can do for your precious furry companion is more important than what and how much you feed her.
Some common sense tips to help you get started:
- Feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet to your pet. Regardless of her weight, your dog or cat still needs the right nutrition for her species, which means food that is high in animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content.
- Practice portion control -- usually a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right amount of calories for weight loss, controlled through the portions you feed, is what will take the weight off your dog or cat. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats.
- Regularly exercise your pet. An overweight body gets back in shape by taking in fewer calories and expending more energy. Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.
More information for cat owners: Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat
For dog owners: How to Help Your Chunky Dog Release Excess Pounds