There have been countless journals, scientific papers, articles, blogs, stone tablets, and any other media form you can imagine dedicated to the topic of obesity in our pets. The latest figures are showing that almost 55% of dogs are classified as obese and almost 60% of cats...that is a massive number of our pets that are overweight. The problems with obesity in veterinary medicine closely mimic that of human medicine. We know that obesity leads to an increase in the risk of developing a variety of diseases including, but not limited to, orthopedic issues, cardiac issues, respiratory problems, diabetes in cats, renal disease, and many more. Personally, I think the most significant issue is that obesity is closely linked to a reduction in the length of the lives of our pets. A recent paper released here (https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/190301n.aspx) discusses how obesity affects the lifespan of breeds differently.
Why is obesity so common in our pets? I think the answer is as simple in pets as it is in people - it boils down to diet and exercise. To us pet owners, food is love! We train with treats, we share our meals with our dogs, kids love to feed pets, and there is an unshakable bond there that builds over time. We often don’t realize how many calories are pets consume in a given day. I can’t tell you the number of times I sat down with owners to go over dietary plans and the calories quickly added up. Few of us realize that one milk bone dog treat can be the equivalent to ¼ of a bowl of food...and we often give many of them throughout the day. If the diet isn’t enough of a reason, many of our pets leave very sedentary lives. Sure, we walk them occasionally, but that is often not enough to counteract the sheer number of calories that they consume in a given day.
How do you know if your dog is overweight? Honestly, it isn’t easy...even for experts. Probably the universal way to know is called the body condition scale (here is a great blog that covers it: https://www.thedrakecenter.com/services/pets/blog/fit-or-fat-your-pets-body-condition-score-bcs) but this method is very subjective. There are some other more complicated methods such as the Healthy Weight Protocol but I suggest asking your veterinarian.
So you think your pet is overweight, what’s the next step? First, you need to rule out any secondary causes of obesity like an under-active thyroid or Cushing’s disease. Everyone knows the saying “Abs are made in the kitchen” and this holds true for veterinary medicine. The first step to fixing obesity is to get a true idea of how much your dog is getting fed...all the calories including human treats and extras, they all add up. Then you need to speak with your vet regarding what your dog “needs” to eat in order to maintain their current body weight. Once you have that number, it is a simple matter of dropping the amount you are feeding to achieve a 1% to 2% weight loss per month.
Sounds easy? Unfortunately it isn’t but there is help out there. They are a number of prescription weight loss diets that can help if you have to cut the feeding amounts back, especially if your dog is a big eater. Cheerios and vegetables, like green beans, make wonderful treats. You also need to commit to regular monthly weigh-ins and make sure your pet is on the right track.
Since our blogs are often about senior pet problems we understand that not every dog can exercise easily. If you have the ability, you should look for low-impact exercises like swimming or underwater treadmills. But much like in people, weight loss is really all in the diet. We know it is tough...for you and your dog but it is truly the best thing that you can do for them to give them not only a better quality of life, but a longer one as well.