The best way to make sure that your pet is happy is to make sure it’s healthy. Obesity is a serious health concern for your pet and prevention starts with a well balanced diet appropriate to your pet’s breed, age and health status. Fat cells develop during the growth stage of your pet’s life. As such we need to make sure that you are feeding your pet an optimal puppy or kitten food to ensure healthy development. As animals mature their diet needs to change periodically to balance with their lifestyle whether it’s speeding up or slowing down.
There are four factors that contribute to overweight pets:
1: Poor quality or improper diet
3: Lack of exercise
4: Medical diseases
A veterinarian can determine if your pet’s size, weight and feeding schedules are appropriate by calculating body condition scoring. Body scores range from one to nine, one being extremely thin, and a nine being markedly obese. An ideal score is a four or five. (See Purina Body Condition Score Guidelines for further information).
Just like in humans, there are many health risks associated with obesity. As your pet’s weight increases so does their risk of developing one or more of these serious problems:
Ruptured ligaments and soft tissues
Vertebral disc diseases
Overweight pets are also a greater anesthetic and surgical risk, they have less energy and often are not able to groom properly. Weight reduction can be achieved by lowering caloric intake along with correction of concurrent medical conditions. Before starting any new exercise program, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian prior to doing so. There are medical conditions that can cause your pet to be obese and can be ruled out by a blood test and physical exam. Increased exercise is critical, but can be impractical in cats and difficult in dogs due to arthritis and other painful diseases.
For any diet and exercise program to be successful, an owner must be committed to its successful outcome. Veterinary prescription diets are also available to aid in weight reduction. The principle in all therapeutic diets is to reduce caloric density but maintain the right amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. There are number of different formulations that offer a low fat content combined with high levels of indigestible fiber, which rely in part on an earlier feeling of satiety (that feeling of fullness) to limit food intake. As most dogs and cats will eat to meet their daily caloric requirements, calorie restriction remains the gold standard of successful weight loss. Although most cases of obesity can be corrected with proper owner compliance, early pet owner education remains the best preventative measure. Overfeeding puppies and kittens may lead to being overweight later in life. In puppies, overfeeding may also accelerate the growth rate, which in certain breeds may increase any predisposition to certain skeletal and orthopedic diseases. Young pets should be fed an appropriate daily amount of a balanced food with a caloric density that will result in normal growth rates and lean body condition. For most adult pets, avoidance of free choice feeding and poor behavioral habits like allowing them to beg and be rewarded for the behavior. Regular exercise still remains the best approach to the prevention of obesity.
Based on your pet’s age and nutritional needs, your veterinarian can recommend a weight loss program to get your pet back on the right track. With the proper diet and exercise your pet will lose weight. It can be a real challenge to stick to a weight management program but it’s worth it to have a happier, healthier pet, which will benefit you both in the years to come. The plus side of exercising regularly with your pet is that you may see a negative in your scale number as well as your four legged friends.
Dr. Kelly MacLellan, DVM