Don't Mistake This for Love, It Could Rob Years Off Your Pet's Life

pet obesity

Story at-a-glance -

  • In 2017, pet obesity rose for the seventh straight year, resulting in millions of dogs and cats with obesity-related conditions and diseases
  • Pet parents can determine whether their dog or cat is overweight by comparing their pet’s body condition to veterinary body condition scores
  • All pets — especially overweight pets — require daily exercise; at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity will help burn fat and improve muscle tone
  • Overweight pets should be fed a pre-determined number of daily calories from a nutritionally balanced, high-quality fresh food diet offered in carefully measured portions
  • It’s also important to radically reduce the number of daily treats overweight pets are fed to ensure they receive the majority of their daily calories from their diet

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Pet obesity continues to rise for the seventh straight year, according to Nationwide Pet Insurance. In 2017, pet parents filed 1.4 million insurance claims for dog and cat obesity-related conditions and diseases, and racked up over $62 million in veterinary costs. Obesity-related pet insurance claims have increased 24 percent in just the last four years. Here are the top 10 most common dog and cat obesity-related conditions according to Nationwide:

Most Common Dog Obesity-Related Conditions in 2017

1. Osteoarthritis

2. Cystitis or urinary tract disease

3. Hepatitis or hepatopathy

4. Hypothyroidism

5. Cruciate ligament

6. Diabetes

7. Intervertebral disc disease

8. Chronic renal disease

9. Congestive heart failure

10. Hypertension

Most Common Cat Obesity-Related Conditions in 2017

1. Cystitis or urinary tract disease

2. Chronic renal disease

3. Diabetes

4. Asthma

5. Hepatitis or hepatopathy

6. Osteoarthritis

7. Hypertension

8. Congestive heart failure

9. Gall bladder disorder

10. Spondylosis

Obesity-related diseases in dogs and cats are entirely preventable, and yet they continue to increase year after year. Many of these conditions can take years off a pet's life and destroy his or her quality of daily life.

How to Tell if Your Dog or Cat Is Overweight

One of the problems contributing to the epidemic of pet obesity is that overweight dogs and cats have become the "new normal" and as a result, many people can't tell the difference between a fat pet and a normal-sized pet.

If you're not sure about your own pet, look down at her from above. You should be able to see a tapered-in waist. If she's oval-shaped, she's probably too heavy. You should also be able to feel (but not see) her ribs as well as the bones near the base of her tail. If she's obese, you'll see noticeable amounts of excess fat on her abdomen, hips and neck. Also compare your pet to these body condition charts provided by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA):

Dogs Body Condition Score Chart

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

Cats Body Condition Score Chart

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

The goal for both dogs and cats is a body condition score of 5. Unfortunately, many owners assume their pet's body score is just fine because their veterinarian never mentions their pet has a weight issue during exams. Veterinarians fail to address extra pounds for many reasons, including because it can be an uncomfortable conversation.

I've had countless pet parents tell me I was the first vet to comment that their dog or cat needed to lose a few pounds, which tells me vets are not adequately addressing the slow but consistent weight gain that occurs over time with many pets and contributes to so many degenerative diseases that could be avoided with appropriate weight management.

Every Pet, Especially Overweight and Obese Pets, Needs Daily Exercise

Consistent daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes (and preferably 60) of aerobic activity will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone. If you're unable to provide your dog with this much physical activity (and some dogs require even more), consider joining a pet sports club or doggy daycare. Another option is to hire a dog walker (or dog jogger, hiker or biker).

If your pet is very overweight or obese, he may not be able to endure extended periods of exercise initially. Swimming is actually an excellent low-impact, gentle form of exercise for dogs that need to start out slow, as well as those with arthritis or mobility issues. Ask your veterinarian what exercises are safe for your pet to do, and which you either need to avoid or put off until he's in better condition.

The Best Way to Feed an Overweight Pet

Pet foods high in carbohydrates  — typically kibble — are the biggest cause of obesity in both dogs and cats. Your carnivorous pet needs food high in animal protein and moisture, with low to no grain or starch content (which is pretty much the opposite of what dry pet foods offer, especially grain-free kibble).

A high-quality fresh food diet is the best choice for pets who need to lose weight. It's important to adequately nourish their bodies as weight loss occurs, making sure their requirements for key amino acids, essential fatty acids and other nutrients are met. The key to healthy weight loss is to meet your pet's nutritional requirements through a balanced diet but feed less food (portion control), which forces her body to burn fat stores. The first step is to transition her to a diet free of potatoes, corn, rice, soy and tapioca.

My recommendation is a homemade fresh food diet of lean meats, healthy fats, and fibrous vegetables and low glycemic fruits as the only sources of carbohydrates. Next, calculate kcal (kilocalorie) requirements for your pet's ideal weight. Let's say your dog is 60 pounds and should be 50 pounds.

Daily calories (canine) = Body Weight (kg) x 30 + 70

To use this formula, first you need to convert her weight from pounds to kilograms. One kilogram = 2.2 pounds, so divide her ideal weight (not her current weight) in pounds by 2.2. 50/2.2 = 22.7, so you dog's ideal weight in kilograms is 22.7.

Now our formula looks like this: Daily calories = 22.7 (kg) x 30 + 70

And finally, it looks like this: Daily calories = 751

If your dog eats 750 calories a day she should drop steadily to her ideal weight of 50 pounds and maintain it.

The formula for kitties has a slight variation to account for the very sedentary lifestyle of most housecats:

Daily calories (feline) = Body Weight (kg) x 30 + 70 x 0.8

Very Important: Limit Those Treats and Hold That Line!

Measure your pet's food portions using an actual measuring cup and drastically limit treats (be sure to include any treats you feed in his total daily calorie count). I recommend setting aside a small portion of homemade food that can be rolled into tiny pea-sized bites and used as treats throughout the day.

Other options are a few raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds, berries and frozen peas, and also homemade treats. Small amounts of other fruits (melons and blueberries, for example) as well as tiny cubes of low-fat cheese also make good treats. Just be sure to feed quantities that are no more than a one-eighth-inch square and all treats for the day fit into a tablespoon for every 30 pounds of dog (and measure it, really).

Once you introduce him to his new diet and lifestyle, your pet will undoubtedly beg, whine and cry for more food, but don't give in. Distract him with a walk, a training session, brushing, a massage or some playtime.

Think of it this way: You're replacing "food love" with a form of love that will help your furry companion have a longer, healthier life. Keep reminding yourself that your overweight or obese pet won't reclaim his ideal weight (or his health and longevity) without your commitment to do the right thing for him.

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