Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pet Obesity Lap of Love Dana Lewis


Obesity has become an extremely important health problem not just for humans but for dogs and cats as well. Obesity in pets is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, trouble breathing, and decreased life span.  The fifth annual veterinary survey found 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats to be classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian. That equals 88.4 million pets that are too heavy according to veterinarians.

Why Obesity is Bad

A common justification for over-feeding treats is that a pet gets so much joy from eating treats, but your pet certainly loses both quality and quantity when it is overweight. Here are some of problems that obese animals must contend with:

The over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae, leading to the progression of joint degeneration and creation of more pain.  Breeds very prone to disc disease include all the short long dogs:  Dachshunds, Bassets, Corgis, etc. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. Then you end up in a vicious cycle as fatter pets also have poorer mobility, which leads to greater obesity.

Reduced Life Span
A study of age-matched dogs found that the dogs that were slightly underfed compared to normal to overweight dogs lived an average of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.
Respiratory Distress
The obese pet has a thick layer of blubber around the chest and having had less exercise, lower muscle mass and tone. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss!

Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk
Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. Additionally, anesthesia is suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat makes proper air exchange even more difficult. Surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the difficulty of finding what you need to work on through all that nasty slick fat.
If The Pet Needs a Special Diet Later In Life Due To A Health Condition

If the pet should develop a condition where a therapeutic diet is necessary to improve quality and/or quantity of life, the pet that has been maintained primarily on a diet of table scraps may be unwilling to accept commercial pet food of any kind, including those for a specific disease process. This unwillingness to eat the new food will hamper successful care of the pet.
Diabetes Mellitus
Extra body fat leads to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. In fact, obese cats have been found to have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Weight management is especially important in decreasing a cat’s risk for the development of diabetes mellitus.
Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease)
When an overweight cat has a sudden decrease in appetite or no appetite because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat’s liver was not designed to process such a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes filled with all that fat the body mobilizes and then fails. A stress that might have been relatively minor becomes a life-threatening disaster!

Why Did My Pet Get So Fat?

One might think weight management might be easier for a pet than it is for a human. After all, the pet relies completely on someone else for feeding and exercise so it should follow that if the humans in control can regulate feeding and exercise, the pet should lose weight, right? It seems like this would be true but, as with humans, there is tremendous individuality with how different pets store the food they have eaten. Here are some factors involved:

Slow Metabolism
Some pets do not burn calories efficiently; they simply have a slow metabolism. This might be genetic or it might be the result of a disease such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. Testing for health problems such as these is helpful to get the best treatment for resolution of the obesity.  As an initial step in obesity management, be sure to rule out health issues that might specifically cause obesity.  Once that is taken care of, the rest is up to you and your pet.

What Is A “Cup” Of Food?
When food packages refer to a certain number of cups of kibble being appropriate for a certain body weight, they are referring to an actual measuring cup. This may seem obvious but many mugs, coffee cups, and other scooping cups may not be equal to a cup. If you do not have a measuring cup for  your pet, you can often get one from your veterinarian’s office as most manufacturers of reducing diets for pets provide free cup measures.  You can also go to the dollar store and get a cheap set of baking measuring “cups” from 1/8 up to 1 cup. Those little ones make it so much easier to feed cats and small dogs since we have a tendency to “round” the measuring cup-which adds quite a bit as it is, and if you need to feed ¼ cup and you are using a full cup measure, you might be tempted to go to 3/8 in the cup instead of ¼.
The Package Guidelines Are Just That
Many packages of food include on their label some sort of feeding schedule that indicates how much food should be fed to a pet of a certain weight.  These guidelines are meant as a starting point only.   Feeding trials are done with small breed high energy dogs who are sexually intact and who get a decent amount of exercise where they are housed.  Therefore, they need more calories than the average spayed dog lying on my couch all day while I work.  If your pet is too fat on the recommended feeding schedule, then you should reduce the amount of food or change to a diet that is higher in fiber so that a satisfying volume of food can still be eaten without adding calories.  Ask your vet for advice.  They should be able to tell you a good starting number of cups or parts of a cup.
In And Around The Home
It is almost impossible to keep children (and a lot of adults) from providing extra treats to their dog. This may include snacks spilled or purposely feeding the pet unwanted food under the dining table. Similarly, pets that are allowed to roam (usually cats) often find food left out by neighbors, either to purposely feed their own pets or strays, or accessing someone’s trash cans. It is almost impossible to control the diet of an outdoor cat.  So, keeping the dog out of the dining area, and keeping the cat indoors (indoor cats on average live to be 16 by the way, while cats that go outdoors at all on average live to be 6!), will do them a huge favor in health care.
The Power Of Treats
Many people express their affection for the pet by providing regular treats, and the pet happily obliges by begging or even performing cute behaviors. For some people, feeding treats to the pet constitutes a major part of the human-animal bond and they do not wish to give it up or reduce it. Pet treats are often high in calories, though, and “a few” treats readily converts into an extra meal’s worth of added calories. Free feeding of dry food also encourages the pet to snack as well; meal feeding represents better calorie control.
Sterilizing a pet is good for public health, as well as pet health, is good for a better house pet (less urine marking, tendency to fight or roam), no unwanted litters, reduced risk of many diseases, etc. The change in the pet after neutering or spaying creates a tendency to form more fat cells, and typically slows metabolism by about 10%. 

What Can Be Done:

Diet and Exercise

This sounds simple but in fact when one simply tries to cut back on food, it just does not always work.  “Lite” or “Healthy Weight” diets that you can buy have a minimal reduction in calories and are probably best fed to maintain a pet at a more ideal weight.  For weight loss, a more concerted effort is required.  This means feeding a prescription diet made for weight loss, feeding a measured amount, and coming in for regular weigh-ins at the vet’s office. (FYI-The dental diet, T/D by Hill’s is a two-fer!  Not only is it great for dental care, it is low in calories!)

(Photos courtesy of

This means:

·        There must be control over what the obese pet eats. That’s easy enough if there is only one pet and roaming is not allowed, but trickier if there is more than one pet in the home. Feeding in meals makes it easier to feed multiple pets different foods or different amounts of food.  You need to feed the pets separately.  And only one person should be in charge of food and snacks.  That person measures out all the food and doles out all the snacks the pet can eat per day, and nobody can add to it.

·        Low cal snacks- think green beans, carrot sticks, apple slices, broccoli. And while cats are obligate carnivores, lots of them will eat fruit and veggies.  These fruits and veggies can be raw, cooked, canned-whatever they like.  But not starchy or fatty foods (potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, nuts, corn, peas, pasta, skin or fat off any meats-think to yourself, is it good for me or not?) as they are too high in calories.  No grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, or avocados due to toxicity.

·        Commit to regular weigh-ins. Know what the goal weight is and how long it should take to reach this goal. It is important not to try to go too fast (you can cause hepatic lipidosis in cats, for example, by going too fast).   Your veterinarian can contact the clinical nutritionists at the pet food company so as to make the best recommendations.

·        Consider interactive toys that can be used when you are not home to encourage the couch potato to move.

·        Exercise for your pet:  Toss the ball or stick, swim, jog, etc. for the dog.  “Fishing rod” toys for cats, catnip or crinkly toys, laser light, tossing the food around piece by piece so the cat has to exercise to eat (including up and down stairs).  Have the kids participate in this!  A few minutes a few times a day makes a big difference in the metabolism boost.


At this time there is no medication that can be used for cats in obesity management. In dogs, however, dirlotapide (Slentrol®) is available. Slentrol is an appetite suppressant that manipulates the absorption of fat into the body in such a way as to fool the brain into feeling full.

For more information on how much to feed your pet, how much your pet’s breed should weigh, and other great information to help your pet with weight issues, go to

If you want one on one phone/skype consultation with our Pet Nutritionist - CLICK HERE

Dr. Dana Lewis
Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.)

Blog posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner

1 comment:

  1. I meant to include some caloric guidelines:
    Cats: 180-200 kcal per day

    10 lb 200-275 kcal/day
    20 lb 325-400 kcal/day
    50 lb 700-900 kcal/day
    Thanks for reading our blog!
    Dr. Dana


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