Obesity in Dogs and Cats - The Deadliest Disease is the Most Preventable

Obesity is the most common nutrition-related health condition in dogs. Between 25 to 40 percent of dogs are obese or are likely to become obese. The reason for this is in part because most owners are unaware their dog is overweight. This is true even for the dog breeds at increased risk of obesity.  These breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Shetland Sheepdogs. The primary cause of obesity in dogs is simple.  We feed them too much food and we exercise them too little.

Obese dogs have heavy layers of fat over the ribs, along the spine and around the tail.  They frequently experience difficulty breathing.  They have reduced exercise tolerance or capacity.  There is a strong relationship between obesity and diabetes.  The early signs of diabetes in dogs are the same as in people.  The dog begins to drink excessively and to urinate frequently.  If you suspect your dog is overweight or if your dog has any of these symptoms call your veterinarian for an appointment.

The veterinarian will do a physical examination to determine the cause and the extent of the problem.  Blood tests will help determine if any diseases are related to the excess weight or actually causing the weight gain.  The liver stores fat so when a dog is overweight an increased amount of fat builds up in the liver.  These tests will check for decreased liver function.  An evaluation of the heart and lungs will also be done.  Hormonal diseases will be researched.  An ideal weight for your pet will be determined. A weight loss program will then be designed specifically for your pet.  The veterinarian will provide you with the feeding and exercise guidelines to best fit your pet’s specific needs.  Follow-up visits every four to six weeks may be needed to monitor weight loss.  Many times it is necessary to make adjustments to the feeding or exercise plans.  Most of the time, it takes several months for dogs to reach their ideal weight.

There are enormous benefits of a weight loss program for your pet.  Obesity in dogs is a preventable disease and its prevention/cure rests squarely in the hands of the owner.  The list of serious medical problems related to excess weight includes: heart disease, high blood pressure, heat intolerance, joint damage, and cancer.  Overweight and obese dogs are also at an increased risk of complications during surgery.

Your dog’s weight loss program is a family effort.  Each individual must commit to the program.  It maybe helpful if one person takes charge of feeding the dog, but everyone can help with the exercise.  Food is not a substitute for love and attention.  Success will require change but it will bring healthy results – and more importantly, a longer life.

Research has shown that during this time of reduced caloric intake, a vitamin/mineral supplement is a recommended solution.  A fish oil supplement is also a good idea.  These supplements insure that your dog is receiving the micro-nutrients and essential fatty acids needed to maintain good health.

A word of caution - many dog owners feel they can control the weight loss by themselves.  They have seen reduced calorie dog food at the store and they can begin their own exercise program.  I would caution against this idea.  Overweight dogs need to be closely watched during exercise to make sure they do not have trouble breathing, especially in hot weather.  You do not want to stress the dog’s heart or lungs.  Swimming may be the best exercise for dogs with joint problems.  A veterinarian is an expert in making these choices.  He may want short sessions of low to moderate activity to start.  The proper caloric intake is also very individualized.  The amount and frequency of feeding is much more precise from a veterinarian.

Obesity is also a serious problem in cats.  The estimates are that 40 percent of cats in America today are obese.  As in dogs, overfeeding is a leading cause.  The older cat becomes less active and generally has a lower metabolic rate, a combination that also leads to obesity.  Add the fact that cats come in all shapes and sizes, it makes it difficult for owners to realize when their cat has a weight problem. 

Cats store excess calories as fat.  It is easy to see the fat stored under the subcutaneous layers.  The bad news is the fat is also stored in the cat’s heart, liver, kidneys, and blood vessels.  A secondary substance known as amyloid is even stored behind their eyeballs and in their pancreas.  The result is a list of serious medical illnesses including: diabetes mellitus, heart disease, high blood pressure, hepatic lipidosis, gallstones, bladder stones, and arthritis.  Many veterinarians believe obese cats become depressed.  There is no doubt they live shorter lives.

Never attempt to treat obesity in your cat without the close supervision of a veterinarian.  If weight loss is done to rapidly, it can lead to life threatening complications.  The weight loss needs to occur gradually.  As for your dogs, the veterinarian will do a physical examination and blood tests to assess your cat’s general health.  If excess weight is the main issue, a weight reduction program will be designed.  There are vets who run special clinics for obese cats at very affordable rates.  A target ideal weight should be determined and an exercise regimen discussed.

There are prescription foods on the market specifically for obese cats.  Your vet can recommend what food is best and how much to give.  An exercise program for a cat is more difficult than one for a dog.  Your vet will know how much increased activity is right for your cat.  It may be a laser pointer or a new toy.  Some cats will walk on a leash and this provides excellent exercise.  A trial of catnip can be helpful getting a cat more active.  Exercise is important but the guidelines need to come from an expert.

Just as we suggested for dogs during this time of reduced caloric intake, a vitamin/mineral supplement is a good idea.  Again, a fish oil supplement is recommended.  Your cat needs to receive micro-nutrients and essential fatty acids to maintain good health.  These supplements are relatively inexpensive and do a lot of good.

Once the weight is lost, the last thing you want for your cat is to regain those pounds.  You will need to monitor your cat’s food intake when the vet tells you to increase their food portions. Remember, the exercise needs to continue.  An ideal weight means just that.  It is the healthy weight at which your cat can live an enriched and long life.

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