What is obesity?
Obesity is a disease caused by build up of excess body fat, subsequently affecting the health of an animal. Obesity is classed as one of the most important diseases of companion animals and can make our pets more susceptible to other disorders and reduces their life expectancy. Some studies show that up to 40% of pets are overweight making it a major animal welfare problem.
Figure 1 The image on the left shows an obese Jack Russell terrier weighing over 15kg. The image on the right shows the same dog 6 months later weighing a healthy 9kg after a successful weight loss programme (German, 2010).
What causes obesity?
It is a common misconception that obesity mainly occurs as a result of other diseases, however this is in fact very rare.
Obesity happens as a result of energy intake exceeding energy output i.e. the amount of food consumed exceeds metabolic rate or exercise. Metabolic rate is how quickly the body burns calories.
Genetics can also play a role in the development of obesity in dogs and cats – more detail on this will follow in my dog and cat specific blog posts.
What happens to my pet when they become obese?
Obesity can have a significant effect on the lifespan of your pet and the quality of their life. One study has suggested that lean dogs have a 15% greater life span than overweight dogs. Obesity also predisposes pets to a range of other diseases such as: diabetes, arthritis and respiratory problems.
In obesity, excess white adipose tissue accumulates. White adipose is the ‘bad fat’ that also accumulates in obese humans. This ‘bad fat’ produces substances that affect our body. Obesity also results in inflammation, which not only affects fat, but also other organs such as the liver. This can cause a range of other problems.
Is my pet obese? Figures 2 and 3 can help you decide.
Figure 2 Scale showing different weight stages of dogs and how they look from the side and above at each stage (http://www.urdogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/dog-diet-2.jpg)
Figure 3 Scale showing different weight stages of cats and how they look from the side and above at each stage (https://icatcare.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/images/body%26muscle-condition-scores.png)
How can I prevent my pet becoming obese?
Preventing obesity is far healthier for your pet, and easier for you as the owner, in the long term compared to treating an obese animal. Prevention can be achieved by monitoring your pet’s weight, educating yourself on the best ways to prevent obesity and knowing the impacts of obesity.
Maintaining a suitable diet for your pet is the best way of preventing obesity and also managing an obese pet. You may have heard that there are drugs licensed to treat obesity in pets however; most success is reached by permanently changing your pet’s lifestyle.
Most pet owners are guilty of feeding their pets scraps from the table or naughty treats but this can have a detrimental effect on their health. It is best to not give any additional food or to only feed healthy treats. Increasing physical activity is also an important part of weight loss as it promotes the loss of fat and preserves lean tissue.
Walking your dog is an important part of maintaining their healthy lifestyle and increasing walking activity is key in weight loss. So, do I have to start walking my cat? Cat owners will be glad to know that walking isn’t necessary: exercise in cats is best achieved by encouraging play behaviour using toys.
The Blue Cross provides information on how to help your pet stay a healthy weight:
Your vet can provide you with the specific diets that are best to use when you want your pet to lose weight. The diets implemented are different for dogs and cats and for individual animals, so look out for that information in the next blog posts as part of this series.
Obesity is a major problem facing our pets and it can have detrimental effects on their health. It is preventable and owners are key in weight management and achieving weight loss goals.
See you next time….
My next blog post in this series will be about risk factors for obesity in dogs and this will be followed by a blog post on conditions associated with obesity in dogs.
Chauvet, A., Laclair, J., Holden, S.L., Elliott, D.A., German, A.J. 2010. Exercise and active client motivation improve rate of weight loss in obese dogs. Canadian Veterinary Journal, In press.
German, A. 2010. Obesity in Companion Animals. In Practice, 32, 42-50.
Kealy, R.D., Lawler, D.F., Ballam, J.M., Mantz, S.L., Biery, D.N., Greeley, E.H., Lust, G., Segre, M., Smith, G.K., Stowe, H.D. 2002. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc., 220, 1315-1320
Laflamme, D.P. 2012. Companion Animals Symposium: Obesity in dogs and cats: What is wrong with being fat? Journal of Animal Science, 90, 1653-1662.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended for interest and education only. I am not a vet and if you have any concerns about your pet you must always consult a veterinary surgeon.