posted: by: FTLOP Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Obesity is one of the most common problems identified in our pets.  A day seldom goes by in my clinic that I do not discuss weight issues.  As with ourselves, being overweight is associated with disease in animals.  Diabetes, arthritis, poor skin, trouble breathing, cardiovascular disease and surgical complications are all increased risks with obesity.  In particular, cats are susceptible to hepatic lipidosis, a condition that can be fatal.  

Excessive weight gain occurs when calorie intake is greater than metabolic needs.  In other words, by eating too much and not exercising enough!  This relationship is complicated by aging, medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, and loss of ability to exercise due to arthritis.  Often weight gain occurs slowly and may not be noticed by owners until it is quite severe.

The simply stated but hard to accomplish solution to obesity is to feed our pets less.  Fewer calories going in will result in less fat accumulation.  Always start by measuring the food accurately and figure out how much you are actually feeding each meal.  Calculate all other sources of food; include treats, table food and food stolen from other dogs, cats or neighbors.  Next, reduce the total by about 25 %.  This means that if you are feeding about 4 cups of food each day, cut back to 3 cups.  A change to a low calorie diet food may help your pet to feel full.  The addition of vegetables- green beans, carrots or zucchini can also be helpful.  Instead of refilling the bowl when your pet acts hungry, just add a few kibbles to appease their hunger.  You could try distracting your pet by going for a walk or playing with them for a few minutes.

If you have multiple pets, this program can be difficult.  Pets steal food from each other and complicate reducing.  Often one pet is overweight and another is just fine.  In these situations, you can try to feed individual meals in separate areas.  Put down the ration and remove it after a set period, perhaps 20 minutes.  

Another problem is with cats.  Cats often are fed free choice, with food available all of the time, which makes restriction difficult.  Cats can be trained to eat individual rations as with dogs; measure the correct amount, feed in separate areas, and remove food after a set period.

Exercise will increase metabolism and use more calories.  Start small and work up to at least 20 minutes daily.  This amount of exercise is not expected to be all that is needed to bring weight down; reducing food intake is still essential.  Dogs can be walked or played with.  Cats might like to chase a laser pointer or various cat toys available in most stores.  Exercising with our pets is good for us too!

Monitoring success or failure is as important as food reduction.  Weigh your pet at intervals until the goal is met.  A 1-2 % weekly weight reduction should be safe for most pets.  Cats in particular need to lose weight slowly to avoid hepatic lipidosis.  Continue to restrict the diet until a gradual weight loss is seen.  All too often I will see a pet some time after the initial consultation and will find that there has been weight gain instead of loss.  Owners are frustrated and the pet is no better in spite of our efforts.  This occurs because of several possible factors.  There may be a failure in our plan for reduction.  Another family member may be feeding additional food.  The pet may be stealing food from another place.  Reexamine all sources of food and correct if needed.  The pet may still get too much food.  It may be necessary to reduce the food even further.  Owners are often surprised with how little food is actually needed.  There may be a complicating disease such as hypothyroidism in dogs.  Consider an evaluation with a possible blood test.

Obesity is a frustrating problem.  Try the simple suggestions listed here first.  If you are still having difficulties achieving your goals, consult with your veterinarian for help.  A recent study demonstrated a nearly 2 year increase in dog’s longevity with appropriate weight management!  That is the equivalent of almost 15 years for humans.

You may download a handout with this information by clicking here.