Correct This Single Mistake, and Your Pet Will Likely Be Healthier and Happier

pet obesity

Story at-a-glance -

  • Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), a pet health insurance provider, released their list of the top 10 dog and cat obesity-related conditions for 2013, which shows a more than 7 percent increase over 2012
  • Arthritis in dogs and bladder/urinary tract disease in cats were the most common obesity-related conditions for which pet owners filed reimbursement claims in 2013
  • Overweight and obese dogs can benefit from every pound lost (or every ounce, in the case of small breeds). An obese dog with arthritis can have noticeable improvement in mobility after losing just 6 to 9 percent of body weight
  • In cats, dry food diets have been linked to both obesity and many of the conditions that fall under the general category of feline lower urinary tract disease

By Dr. Becker

Earlier this year, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), a pet health insurance provider, published a list of the top 10 dog and cat obesity-related conditions for 2013, which accounted for over $52 million in claims -- a 7.3 percent increase over 2012.

VPI covers over 525,000 pets, and the top 10 dog and cat obesity-related conditions for 2013 were:

Dogs Cats
Arthritis Bladder/urinary tract disease
Bladder/urinary tract disease Chronic kidney disease
Hypothyroidism Diabetes
Liver disease Liver disease
Torn knee ligaments Asthma
Diabetes Arthritis
Disease disc in the spine High blood pressure
Fatty growth Heart failure
Chronic kidney disease Gall bladder disorder
Heart failure Immobility of spine

Dog guardians filed over 39,000 claims for arthritis, which is the most common joint disease seen in overweight and obese dogs. The average claim was $300.

Bladder or urinary tract disease topped the list of the most common feline condition associated with obesity. VPI received 4,700 claims for this disease from cat guardians, with an average claim amount of $420.

Obese Dogs with Arthritis Benefit from Every Pound of Weight Lost

A study conducted a few years ago at the University of Glasgow Veterinary School in Scotland evaluated the effect of weight loss on lameness in dogs.1

It was an 18-week study of 14 family dogs including a Border Collie, a Bearded Collie, a Rottweiler, a Springer Spaniel, two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, two mixed breed dogs, and six Labrador Retrievers. The dogs were on average 24 percent heavier than their ideal body weight and suffered from varying degrees of hip dysplasia and arthritis.

The dogs' body weight and pelvic circumference were measured at the beginning of the study, along with severity of lameness. They were placed on a weight loss program using commercially available food. Owners were instructed not to change the dogs' level of exercise for the duration of the study.

The same person evaluated the dogs every 2 weeks for 12 weeks, then 4 weeks apart for the final 2 visits. Weight, pelvic circumference, and severity of lameness at a walk and a trot were measured at each visit.

By visit 3, body weights were significantly decreased from starting weights, and by visit 5, pelvic circumference was significantly reduced from starting measurements. By the final visit, the dogs had lost on average 8.85 percent of their initial body weight. The pelvic circumference of the dogs was reduced on average almost 7 percent.

From visit 2 onwards, lameness scores for both walking and trotting significantly improved week by week. At the end of the study, 82 percent of the dogs showed improvement in lameness.

The results demonstrate that when an overweight dog reaches about a 6 percent decrease in body weight, lameness is significantly decreased. Additional improvement is seen as additional weight is lost.

Bottom line: an obese dog with osteoarthritis can have noticeable improvement in lameness after losing just 6 to 9 percent of body weight.

Feeding Tips for an Overweight or Obese Dog

The dog food used in the University of Glasgow study was a “prescription” diet I would never recommend, just as I never recommend highly processed non-prescription weight management or low fat commercial diets.

Your dog should be fed balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, not the carb and fiber filled processed stuff marketed as good for overweight dogs.

Portion control is another key element in helping your pet lose weight. For more information and suggestions on getting excess weight off your dog, view my 2-part video series:

Part 1: Why Heavy Dogs Are Becoming the Norm

Part 2: How to Help Your Chunky Dog Release Excess Pounds

Dry Cat Food Linked to Obesity and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery2 took a look at risk factors for urethral obstruction, clinical signs, outcomes, and recurrence rates in 82 cats. Urethral obstruction (UO) is a very common, life-threatening condition in cats and is one of several conditions that fall into the category of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).

Notably, the cats with UO were significantly younger than a control group of healthy kitties, significantly heavier, and most (over 80 percent) were fed dry food only. Not one of the 82 cats with UO was fed an exclusively wet food diet.

Cats need moisture-rich diets because they don’t have a strong thirst drive compared to other species. They are designed to get almost all the water they need from the food they eat. Cats in the wild hunt prey, and prey consists of about 75 percent water. Canned cat food contains at least that much moisture. Dry food, on the other hand, contains only about one-tenth that amount.

The bodies of felines aren’t built to digest carbohydrates efficiently, and dry pet food is typically loaded with carbs. Cats lack the necessary enzymes to break down and digest carbs, or turn them into energy. The majority of carbs in a cat’s diet are therefore stored as fat. Given the ingredients in most dry cat food, it’s easy to see from a physiological standpoint how cats become overweight.

Moisture-Rich Diets Help Prevent/Resolve Obesity in Cats

Researchers at the University of California, Davis conducted a study to determine how the water content in food affects the amount cats eat and their body weight.3

The study involved 10 young, healthy, intact male cats, and results showed that consumption of canned food resulted in less food eaten, a decrease in body weight, and no change in body composition (lean body mass, fat body mass, and total body water).

The UC-Davis researchers concluded that canned (wet) diets result in cats voluntarily eating less and a corresponding reduction in body weight. Further, nutritional content and digestibility were not compromised, which is a big concern with low fat/weight loss dry cat food formulas. Also, the kitties "greatly preferred" the canned (wet) diets.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of transitioning any cat still eating kibble to a canned food diet, and then ideally to a balanced, species-appropriate raw diet.

Many cats are picky eaters. Others are addicted to a certain type of poor quality pet food. There is a right way and a wrong way to transition your kitty from dry food to a more nutritious diet, and you can find the details in my two-part video series How to Win the Healthy Food Battle with Your Fussy Feline.

If your kitty is overweight, my video Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat can help you diet your cat down to a healthy weight very safely and slowly.