30 Second Summary
- Pet obesity is one of the most challenging and, more importantly – controllable – medical conditions in veterinary medicine. It reduces life expectancy and deprives pets from living their best life. Pet obesity has seen a steep, steady rise in recent years.
- Overweight pets are much more likely to be disposed to musculoskeletal conditions and diabetes. Trupanion policyholders with obese dogs or cats spend over 10x more on diabetes treatment than pet parents of pets at an average weight.
- Why is pet obesity a problem? Plenty of evidence now exists showing that excess fat deposits in dogs and cats are associated with many serious health complications, including osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and cancer.
- 4 Benefits for Maintaining a Pet-Friendly Weight:
- Reduced risk of health issues.
- Higher quality of life.
- Longer life expectancy.
- Lower veterinary expenses.
- Although there is no universally accepted veterinary definition for obesity in pets, pets are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10-30% above their ideal body weight. Obesity is diagnosed when their weight exceeds 30% of their ideal body weight.
- How can I help my pet maintain a healthy weight? Maintaining a healthy weight requires a commitment to a healthier diet and lifestyle that achieves a balance between the calories consumed and the calories used. Basically, it means decreasing calories and increasing activity levels. We offer 14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.
Is my Pet overweight?
The love of a pet does NOT equate to giving them more food.
Many pet parents conflate food with love, causing them to feed their pets too much – think routine access to table scraps and treats.
Unfortunately, these genuinely heartfelt intentions have unintended consequences: a lower life expectancy for your furry friend. Obesity imparts a heavy burden on pets, regardless of species and can lead to all kinds of health issues. Pet obesity has seen a steep, steady rise in recent years.
Is pet obesity an epidemic?
It’s likely approaching the dictionary definition. For our canine friends, clinical obesity has been diagnosed in more than 54% of all dogs in the United States – a figure is likely similar for Canadian pets. That’s a large number.
From a health perspective, obesity is one of the most complicated, challenging and more importantly – controllable – medical conditions in veterinary medicine.
Looking at it from a financial perspective, our pet insurance partner – Trupanion – has presented research that reveals:
- Policyholders with overweight dogs or cats spend as much as five times (5x) more than policyholders with average weight pets for musculoskeletal conditions such as cruciate ruptures, lameness and limping.
- Overweight pets are more likely disposed to diabetes. Policyholders with obese dogs or cats spend over 10 times (10x) more on diabetes treatment than pet parents of pets at an average weight.
Pet obesity affects nearly all pet parents and their furry family members in some detrimental way. It costs many millions (billions?) in medical bills, reduces life expectancy and deprives pets from living their best life.
That’s why the battle to acknowledge – and address – pet obesity is so important.
What is pet obesity? Is my pet overweight or obese?
Quite simply, obesity in pets is an accumulation of additional body fat. Body weight and body fat tend to complement each other, so most overweight – or obese – pets will have an excess body fat.
It’s no surprise that body weight is the measure used when assessing if a pet is overweight or obese. Pinch-an-inch does not apply, as this method measures subcutaneous fat (sits under the skin) and not visceral fat (accumulates around internal organs).
Dogs are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10-30% above their ideal body weight. Obesity is diagnosed when their weight exceeds 30% of their ideal body weight. Cats follow a similar standard. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no universally accepted veterinary definition for obesity in pets. While obesity is loosely defined as 30% above ideal body weight, just being marginally overweight can impact the health of your pet.
Perhaps the biggest (no pun intended!) challenge is that many pet parents simply do not recognize there may be an issue. If there was a better understanding of how costly this can be for their pet’s health – and their wallet – then, perhaps we could see a decline in this preventable epidemic.
4 Visual Ways to Tell If Your Pet Is Packing Extra Weight.
How do I know my pet is obese? To start searching for a solution, we first need to recognize there’s a problem. Obviously, the most fail-safe way to tell if your pet is overweight is to take them to your veterinarian for an examination.
However, here are a few simple, home-based tips before you go:
- Does the stomach sag? Like humans, this is a clear indicator that your pet is carrying too much weight.
- Are your pet’s ribs hard to distinguish? By placing your hands on the sides of their chest, you should be able to feel their rib cage without much effort.
- Dogs and cats should have a distinct taper at their waist, between the abdomen and where their hips go into the socket. Overweight pets are oval-shaped, rather than hourglass.
- A broad and flat back is another sign they’re too wide on the sides.
Why is my pet gaining weight?
There are several reasons why your pet could be overweight, but the root cause is an imbalance between the energy intake and usage. In other words, pets are consuming more calories than they can expend. They key is to find the right balance for your pets breed, age and activity level.
Common reasons why your pet’s weight can increase over time:
- Overfeeding – THE #1 reason: consumption of excess portions, high-caloric diets, frequent treats and/or table scraps.
- Aging – a decrease in activity/exercise due to arthritis and/or some other aging condition, not to mention a natural slowdown in their metabolism.
- Hypothyroidism – a common disease in pets in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroxine. This hormone regulates metabolism and slows it down.
- Insulinoma – rare in cats, a tumour on a dog’s pancreas that results in excessive amounts of insulin being produced – weight gain is a common side effect.
- Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease) – a tumour on the pituitary or adrenal glands causing an overproduction of hormones – usually cortisol – being released causing increased appetite.
Fun Fact: According to a Purina Lifespan Study, overweight pets live 2 years less that pets who maintain a healthy bodyweight. Though all of the dogs were fed a nutritionally complete diet, the amount of food they were fed differed between the 2 groups.
What are the benefits of keeping my pet at a healthy weight?
We’re often asked why it’s important to maintain a healthy weight for my pet. The answer is simple: an appropriate weight for your pet’s age, size and breed gives them the best chance of a longer, healthier and pain-free life.
Four (4) Benefits for Maintaining a Pet-Friendly Weight.
- Reduced risk of health issues. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight lowers the risk of kidney disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.
- Better quality of life. A healthy weight means that your dog is much more able to stay active, such as long walks or playing with their pals at the local dog park. For cats, playing with toys, employing a cat tower and/or regular catnip indulgences help them burn calories. Extra weight can greatly limit your pet’s mobility and energy levels.
- Longer Life expectancy. A long-term study by Purina of Labrador retrievers from the same litter exhibited that dogs that maintained at a healthy weight lived an average of two years longer than those who were obese. This is closely related to a better quality of life.
- Lower veterinary expenses. Lower risk of health issues can greatly reduce the amount of money needed to treat obesity-related health issues.
What are the health risks associated with obesity in pets?
Why is pet obesity a problem? Plenty of evidence now exists showing that excess weight and fat deposits in dogs and cats is associated with many serious health complications. The most noteworthy consequence of pet obesity is a shorter life expectancy and lowered quality of life. The following list of ailments do NOT necessarily exist in isolation – these conditions can be one link-in-the-chain leading to other adverse medical conditions.
Eight (8) medical conditions common to overweight or obese pets:
Extra weight puts extra pressure on a pet’s joints. When a joint is overloaded, the cartilage breaks down, resulting in arthritis. Pain medications help but weight loss offers more effective, long-lasting relief.
2. Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Obese pets have fewer working insulin receptors, which leads to a lack of sensitivity to insulin. The relationship between insulin, obesity and longevity is closely entwined. As a general rule, when a pet’s insulin resistance increases, lifespan decreases.
3. High Blood Pressure
Based on current evidence, it’s clear excess weight in dogs and cats can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension. Having been studied closely for more than 25 years, the link between obesity and high blood pressure is not fully understood.
4. Kidney Disease
Hypertension directly affects the kidney, mostly because it receives nearly one-quarter of the blood pumped by the heart. The exact role obesity plays in kidney disease is still unknown – preventing pet obesity is currently the best treatment advice.
5. Respiratory Disease
Excess fat along the chest wall and abdomen may alter the normal breathing patterns, resulting in uneven and jerky breathing. Many dogs or cats will pant excessively after even a short walk in a desperate attempt to gain more oxygen.
The relationship between obesity and certain cancers has been growing. At least 13 types of cancers are currently linked to obesity in humans. Animal models used in cancer research and current evidence suggests that obese pets may also be at greater risk for developing cancer.
7. ACL Tears
Carrying too much weight is a well-known risk factor for tearing the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), an important ligament in the knee affecting mobility.
8. Skin Conditions
Overweight pets can have additional skin folds, which can cause irritation (rubbing) and infection (via bacteria). This may lead to scratching and skin redness.
How can I help my pet lose weight? 14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.
This is the eternal question for all pet parents. How can I prevent my pet from becoming overweight? We intuitively all know the answer to this: reaching and maintaining a healthy weight requires a commitment to a healthier lifestyle that achieves a balance between the calories consumed and the calories used by the body for normal functions and activity. Basically, it means decreasing calories and increasing activity levels.
Sounds easy enough on the surface, eh?
What makes this seemingly simple premise challenging is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach or magic pill that will help your pet lose excess weight. What works for one pet doesn’t necessarily work for another pet. What DOES work is a commitment from pet parents to make the change.
Where to start?
First, helping your pet lose weight is not about you. Our veterinary team’s honest evaluation of your pet’s weight isn’t meant as a judgment – or assessment – of your own level of health or a statement about your pet parenting skills. Our veterinarians have your pet’s best interests in mind and recommendations are based on a commitment to your pet’s optimal health.
Secondly, put your pet’s interests first. All pet parents should have a singular focus: a dedication to their pet’s health and longevity. Does your pet have any medical conditions caused by excess weight? Is there a higher risk of disease or problems because of your pet’s weight? Our veterinarians will provide a professional, candid assessment of your pet’s current health and weight status and will make recommendations on diet and exercise programs.
14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.
- Regular Exercise. Our pets are innately energetic. For dogs, activity levels vary by breed but a daily walk of 30 to 60 minutes is a great place to start for optimum health. For indoor cats, toys, laser pointers and cat trees can go a long way in keeping those calories burning.
- Avoid the temptation to overfeed. Both dogs and cats are known for their prolific begging skills, but giving in to those sad, puppy eyes or plaintive meows isn’t a good thing for their waistline. Btw, starving a pet is just as bad as overfeeding.
- Maintain a nutritious and healthy diet. There are a multitude of healthy diet alternatives and brands to choose from, but a consultation with our veterinarian about the best diet based on your pet’s condition is the best place to start.
- Eliminate table scraps and high-calorie treats. At the very least, keep these to a minimum and focus on healthier diets and treats. Make no mistake, it’s hard not to give in!
- Reduce snacks between meals. Calories in treats for pets can really add up. It’s been suggested that they should only make up about 10% of your pet’s caloric intake. As a treat alternative, cut up small pieces of pet-friendly fruits and veggies for tasty treats with fewer calories.
- Set realistic goals. When working with our veterinarians, you can develop realistic goals for reducing your pet’s weight over time. Rapid weight loss is NOT healthy, so ask our vets for healthier eating and exercise programs that give a sensible – and safe – rate of weight loss.
- Make exercise fun. Living a healthy lifestyle benefits everyone in the family, even if you’re a family of one. Finding pleasurable activities you can experience with your pet will always be more fun for everyone.
- Portion control. A discussion with our veterinarians about your pet’s dietary requirements is a great place to start. Free pouring or ‘eye-balling’ food portions isn’t going to cut it. Consistently measured portions is a reliable, pet-friendly way to keep the recommended caloric intake steady.
- Maintain a regular feeding routine. By feeding your pet at the same time every day, they will learn to expect food at that time and be less likely to beg for food throughout the day.
- Distractions to control appetite. When your pet begs for food, avert their attention to some other activity they enjoy. This could be going for a walk, playing with a toy or simply receiving some love from their favourite pet parent – they never grow tired of this! Correction: some cats do…
- Don’t eat where you sleep. Leave your pet’s food dish far-removed from their favorite place to relax – this gives them a reason to get up and move during the day.
- Make them work for their food. To slow the rate of your pet’s food consumption, there are several playthings that you can fill with kibble. The result? It will make your pet put in some effort to obtain their meal. These toys keep them busy and stop them from wolfing down their entire dinner in record time.
- Monitor progress. Always monitor – and record – your pet’s progress. All weight loss programs, come with successes and the occasional lapse. By monitoring and recording, you can determine what’s working (and what’s not) and make necessary adjustments to the program.
- !!! Follow veterinary advice !!!. Anytime you make changes to your pet’s diet or lifestyle, it’s imperative to check with our Cabbagetown vets first. Certain breeds, current age, lifestyle and underlying health conditions generally require special dietary and activity considerations when it comes to executing a successful weight loss program.
Fun Fact: In North America, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. More than 50% of the general canine population is obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing in higher than normal.
Deep down, we all know of the risks of carrying a few extra pounds. Despite the awareness of health risks associated with overindulging, poor food choices and lack of exercise, we still tend to ignore – or at least delay – simple tactics we know can benefit our overall health and wellness.
Eat less, exercise more.
However, we shouldn’t let our lack of action and inattention affect the ones that truly depend on us the most – our cherished pets. We simply need to have the awareness and the motivation to act. Hopefully, the motivation of having a happy and healthy pet is enough.
Schedule an appointment with our vets today – we can provide you with the tools and expertise to help your pet live a long and happy life.