Published on January 20th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Obesity in Pets
Here in the UK, human beings are far fatter, generally speaking, than our neighbours in continental Europe. And this means that we’re far likelier to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high-blood pressure, and numerous other conditions. But while this epidemic has garnered the majority of the headlines, it’s not just human beings who are at risk. Our pets, too, are moving less, eating more, and accumulating more body fat than ever before. Clearly, this is a trend that must be reversed if our beloved dogs and cats are to enjoy the best possible quality of life.
What is obesity?
According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.”
In dogs, obesity is heavily linked with skeletal disorders like osteoarthritis, and glandular ones like pancreatitis. It’ll also reliably worsen other serious diseases involving the joints and respiratory system. Cats suffer from similar risks, with feline obesity being linked with hepatic lipidosis and diabetes mellitus, as well as skin disease and lameness.
Clearly, then, we’re dealing with a serious problem that deserves serious consideration. This means that the onus is on veterinarians and owners to take corrective action. Dogs and cats, given the choice, simply won’t do it for themselves!
How can we prevent obesity?
When it comes to tackling obesity, it’s far easier to anticipate and prevent the problem than it is to deal with it after it’s come about. Obesity comes about, to put it simply, because an animal is taking more energy on than they’re expending. This difference gets stored as body fat – which is what allows wild cats to gorge themselves on a zebra one week and then go hungry the next. The trouble is, a domestic cat doesn’t have to hunt for its food – food instead comes in a steady supply. Small wonder, then, that our pets get so big so easily.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) provide owners and vets with a few tools to help identify and eliminate the drivers of obesity. Their approach is cyclical – by evaluating a pet’s existing diet, and then composing a new one, we can incrementally get closer to one that’s going to promote a healthy weight. Let’s examine these two stages in closer detail.
We’ll need to inspect the animal to see just how obese it is. The greater the extent of the obesity, the more severe the corrective action we’ll need to take. Your vet will judge your pet by examining the visibility and palpability of the skeleton and musculature. It’s worth doing this yourself, however; if you’re used to the way your pet looks and feels, you’ll be more sensitive to changes in its weight. You’ll therefore be able to spot obesity before it grows into a serious problem.
We should also consider the features of the animal which might contribute to the condition. If your pet has been neutered, then this will predispose it to obesity. The age, breed, and sex of the animal might have a similar influence. Though these factors can’t be controlled, they can help to inform changes in diet.
Diet and Environment
As well as considering the condition of the animal itself, we should also consider the factors which have brought about this condition. Your cat will eat a certain about of food every day, along with occasional treats. They might get this food in controlled, regular portions – or they might simply beg for food whenever they’re hungry.
Once we’ve assessed the weight and diet of the animal, we can make adjustments to the latter in order to affect change in the former. The most obvious way to do this is by restricting the amount of food fed. Certain sorts of cats might benefit from being switched to a different sort of food – one which contains more of the vital nutrients your cat needs, but in fewer calories. This is especially important when it comes to preserving bone function in older cats. Of these nutrients, perhaps the most important is protein – the stuff which helps to build new organ tissue and keep your pet’s musculature in good condition. When you’re shopping for specialised weight-loss food, you’ll be looking for the stuff that provides protein in higher concentrations.
Extra special care should be taken when restricting the diet of arthritic cats and dogs. Controlling the weight of the animal is crucial to lowering the stress placed on the joints – but it’s essential that we still provide those joints with the nutrients they need to maintain themselves. If your pet is so afflicted, then talk to your vet about switching to a diet which reflects these special needs.
Specialist pet foods do tend to cost more than ordinary ones, and for this reason many owners are put off. But these costs are slightly offset by the fact that your pet won’t need to eat as much of them. They’re offset still further by the fact that weight loss will help to prevent your pet from developing the obesity-linked problems we’ve talked about – which will in turn lower future veterinary bills.
The more severe the obesity, the more serious these cuts will need to be. If your animal is just a touch overweight, then you’ll be able to get away with simply lowering the amount of treats you’re feeding to them, or shrinking portion sizes just a touch. If your cat’s problem has gotten out of hand, then you’ll need to take accordingly draconian measures.
The importance of weigh-ins
If you’re trying to reduce your pet’s weight, then you’ll have a lot of control over the amount of food they take on board – but exercise is something of an unknown quantity. With the help of regular weigh-ins, we can see precisely what the energy requirements of the animal might be – and make changes in the diet accordingly.
With the right evaluation and the right action, you’ll be able to steadily lower the weight of your animal, and in doing so guard them against health problems. By following up on the treatment after you’ve done so, you’ll be able to prevent a relapse.