Published on March 10, 2016
We all know that obesity is a growing problem for people but most don’t realize that it is a problem for cats and dogs as well. It amazes me how many people bring their animals in and are unaware that they are overweight. A recent National Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey revealed that about half of the dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. As a clinician, these numbers are not surprising.
How Obesity is Harmful
Few people know that overweight pets have an increased risk of medical issues. Problems such as diabetes, increased risk of anesthetic complication, and arthritis are common. It is also important to know that weight gain can also be a sign of illness such as thyroid disease. If you feel that your pet is overweight, or your veterinarian mentions it in an exam, it is important to take proactive steps to start promoting a healthy weight.
Controlling and Treating Obesity
Just like in people, the two biggest contributors to weight loss are diet and exercise. Diet in animals is actually much easier to control as they typically are limited to eat what we choose to feed. Avoiding table scraps and extra treats as well as feeding measured portions according to your veterinarian’s recommendations can effectively control your pet’s diet. There are also low fat diets and prescription weight loss diets that can be helpful. It is important to review the type and amount of food you are feeding with your veterinarian before making a change in diet.
Diet modification alone can lead to significant weight loss but will often lead to loss of muscle mass as well. Exercise helps to maintain appropriate muscle mass and increases the rate of weight loss. Exercising a dog can be as simple as going for a long walk each day or playing fetch for 10 extra minutes. Exercising a cat can be more challenging. I have good luck using a laser pointer for 10 minutes a day and feeding with the meal split into small amounts around the house to encourage walking as the cat searches for food.
Healthy Weight = More Healthy Years to Come!
Just like in people, dieting can be hard and you may find that your furry loved one begins to show begging behavior, or even just gives you that sad look. It is important to remember that we are here to support your efforts if you have concerns and that as the diet becomes routine, these frustrations will subside. They will thank you with extra years of companionship for the steps you take to improve their weight!