Pet Care Comments
Obesity In Our Pets
I have worked as a veterinarian since 1980. During this time, the number of overweight and obese pets has increased dramatically. Some dogs and cats have medical conditions which promote obesity, but we will limit our comments here to diet-driven obesity. There have been a lot of changes in the last 28 years which have contributed to this phenomenon. First, in the early 1980s, highly digestible diets arrived on the market. These diets were designed to reduce stool bulk and give the pet greater quality of nutrients in both dry and canned forms. Hill’s Science Diet® was the first brand to be introduced, but now there are a large number of brands which offer the same high quality and digestibility. With these new diets, pets don’t have to eat as much to meet their nutrition and calorie requirements. Many diets also have packaging which suggests feeding unnecessary quantities.
A second reason for increased obesity may result from the changed position which pets have in our society. We now view our cats and dogs as part of the family. They share our houses, beds, and food. ‘Out of hand’ feeding or sharing of prepared food is an interactive event that increases the bond with our pets but can lead to weight gain.
Many owners think lack of exercise is the main reason pets are too heavy. That may be a factor, but I believe it is not a major one. Dog-walking is a common activity and our pets are still overweight because it takes high levels of routine exercise to drop weight without modification of the caloric intake. I believe the third reason pets are heavier is due to a change in our perception of what ‘appropriate weight’ really is for our pets. This change in perception allows us to view moderate obesity as normal. If we don’t recognize excess weight, then why should we make changes?
Body condition scores can be determined by some simple observations. We use the nine category Body Condition Scoring System which can be viewed at the following web site:
You can also get an idea of your pet’s ideal weight if you know their weight at 18 months of age (assuming they were not overweight at that time). They should not continue to gain as they get older. An exception is made for giant breeds which will continue to grow up to 24-30 months of age.
So, how do we keep our pets at a healthy weight? The most important change must involve the calories they consume. Exercise can assist in the weight loss process but without calorie control the battle is often lost. A different diet may be necessary but, more importantly, there is a need to reduce quantity and availability. Treats and shared foods don’t have to be eliminated, but must be managed so all of the calories are under the owner’s control. For example, the average 20 pound dog needs about 1 measured cup of dry food to maintain an ideal weight. If that dog is fed one cup plus 3 treats each day, then the total calorie intake is for a larger dog--which he will gradually become! By reducing the dry food quantity in addition to changing the treat size or type, the appropriate calorie total can be maintained. During annual physical exams, we can help you determine your pet’s ideal target weight and an approximate food quantity to begin safe weight reduction and control.
My final recommendation for success is to monitor your pet’s progress with regular weight checks. Rechecking body weight every 2-4 weeks for most dogs and every 4 weeks for cats and small dogs will direct your feeding program to achieve and maintain your pet’s ideal body weight. Our clinic encourages owners to stop in and check the weight of their pet anytime during our regular hours and we will record your progress.
It takes effort and discipline for owners to make feeding changes, but the result will be a healthier companion pet who will have a reduced risk of many diseases (i.e. diabetes, kidney failure, arthritis, liver disease, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal disease and cancer). Your pet will feel better, live longer, and have more energy for a nice walk in the park. We want to help you, celebrate success with you, and encourage you in your quest for a healthy pet.