North Country Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Essex County, New York
IS MY PET TOO FAT?
One of the most frustrating veterinary problems I deal with on a regular basis is obesity. Between 25 and 30 percent of dogs and cats are obese. In my practice, I usually first recognize a tendency for obesity when pets are between one and two years old. I bring it to the attention of the pet owner but in most cases the problem is not resolved and often becomes compounded by overfeeding year after year.
Large dogs that are significantly overweight commonly experience orthopedic disease involving the hips, knees and elbows as they approach middle age. Diabetes is a complication of obesity in dogs over five years of age and obese cats are at increased risk for a host of metabolic diseases, including diabetes. The incidence of dry scaly skin is higher in obese cats and dogs.
As the adult dog becomes increasingly overweight, it becomes reluctant to exercise, which compounds the problem. The resulting poor body condition and exercise intolerance have an adverse effect on quality of life. It is not uncommon for owners to euthanize a middle-aged dog that is healthy in every other respect but is having difficulty getting up and moving about.
Obesity in cats and dogs significantly decreases life expectancy, yet in most cases the overfeeding is a result of a strong human-animal bond in the household. In other words, people want to make their pets happy and feeding is an obvious source for happiness in our pets. Therefore, the first hurdle I need to clear in attempting to correct the problem is convincing a well-meaning pet owner that a weight-reduction plan is an act of kindness.
One common misconception among dog owners is that obesity is the result of feeding table scraps or dog biscuits. In fact, the majority of overweight dogs are simply being fed too much dry dog food. Recent evidence implicates dry cat food as the culprit in many cases of feline obesity, since dry food is usually high in carbohydrate and therefore is not a natural diet for felines.
The first step in achieving good weight control in your dog or cat is to develop a sense of what a healthy pet looks like. An excellent resource is the website of Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine vet.osu.edu which shows photographs of pets with varying body conditions. Many pet owners express surprise when I suggest that they are overfeeding simply because they have a different opinion as to what constitutes an ideal weight.
The second step is to develop a feeding program. It is important to recognize that this is not carved in stone and may need to be altered with time. Puppies and kittens need to be fed more during the rapid growth stage. Caloric needs usually decrease with adulthood but may also depend upon exercise, which in turn may vary with the season. Dogs that hike a lot during the spring, summer and fall but are more sedentary in winter may need to be fed less during the winter months. When introducing a weight reduction program in an obese pet, always use a measuring cup, so that these changes can be made accurately. Use scales rather than your eye to assess the results of a weight reduction program.
All pet owners have a desire to provide the best possible quality of life for their pets. Maintaining a healthy body weight is an integral part of this goal. The payoff is huge, both in terms of longevity and quality of life.
David Goldwasser, DVM, Adirondack Veterinary Hospital, Westport, NY
Stout cat: courtesy of Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine