Canine & Feline Obesity Awareness and Prevention

October’s Pet Obesity Awareness Day Should Be a Year Round Observance

Although October 7, 2015 is Pet Obesity Awareness Day, this potentially irreversible health concern is one that affects so many pets that it needs more than a single day of recognition.  Measures should be taken every day to prevent pets from becoming overweight or obese.

In the U.S., pet obesity has reached epidemic proportions. In 2014, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducted its annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey by teaming up with veterinarians and determining that 52.7 percent of dogs and 57.9 percent of cats are overweight or obese.

As a practicing veterinarian who touts the message of maintaining a slim body condition to my clients and pet owners worldwide, I’m astounded that nearly 100,000,000 (yes, one hundred million) dogs and cats are considered overweight or obese.

Why is being overweight or obese bad for canines and felines?

Overweight and obese pets are at risk for numerous potentially irreversible health problems, all of which compromise their quality of life and are costly to owners to be medically managed.

The body systems below are affected by the listed obesity-related ailments:

  • Heart and blood vessels – high blood pressure, reduced blood circulation, etc.
  • Skin – skin fold dermatitis (skin inflammation), infection (bacteria, yeast), etc.
  • Immune System – cancer, immune mediated (“autoimmune”) disease, etc.
  • Muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons – arthritis, degenerative joint disease, tendon and ligament injuries, traumatic disc rupture, etc.
  • Glandular system – hypothyroidism, diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney and liver disease, etc.

Why are pets overweight or obese?

The primary reason pets are overweight or obese is rather simple; pets are consuming too many calories.  Secondarily, too few calories are being burned off through day-to-day movements and exercise.  Yet, the underlying reasons why pets are eating too much and exercising too little is much more complicated.

Commercially available dry and canned pet diets that are those most commonly selected by U.S. pet-owning households include feeding guidelines that provide too much room for interpretation and pets are often inadvertently overfed.

Most pet owners don’t realize it, but obesity is the number one nutritional disease afflicting pets.  In my experience, if asked to identify which nutritional disease tops the list, most owners mistakenly reply malnutrition or some form of vitamin or mineral imbalance.

Unfortunately, many pet owners fear that feeding a diet that isn’t commercial available and “complete and balanced” will lead to health problems and subsequently default to foods containing ingredients that don’t exist in nature or are vastly different from the format nature creates.  When it comes down to it, pet owners are actually creating nutritional imbalances in their pets by feeding excessive amounts of nutritionally complete and balanced foods.

Owners find comfort in providing pleasure to their pets through food, so calories in addition to morning and evening meals come through treats.  Single or multiple treats made from processed, grain-based biscuits and meat simulations having poor nutrient quality creates even more of a nutritional imbalance.

How can I tell if my dog or cat is overweight or obese?

Determining if your pet is overweight or obese doesn’t require challenging scientific calculations.  Doing so just takes an observant owner and input by the veterinarian overseeing the pet’s care.

In my veterinary practice, I evaluate each patient’s body weight on a scale and determine a Body Condition Score (BCS) based on the Body Condition Scoring Chart created by the Nutritional Support Services at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The BCS scale ranges from one to five, where one is the extreme of thinness and five being the extreme of fatness. The ideal BCS is three. Pets having a BCS of four are considered Stout. Those grading as five are Obese.

Here’s the full range of the BCS scale:

  • 1 = Emaciated. Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all body prominences evident from a distance. No discernible body fat. Obvious absence of muscle mass.
  • 2 = Thin. Ribs easily palpated and may be visible with no palpable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones less prominent. Obvious waist and abdominal tuck.
  • 3 = Moderate. Ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Abdomen tucked up when viewed from side. This is the ideal body index score.
  • 4 = Stout. General fleshy appearance. Ribs palpable with difficulty. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar spine and tail base. Abdominal tuck may be absent.
  • 5 = Obese. Large fat deposits over chest, spine and tail base. Waist and abdominal tuck absent. Fat deposits on neck and limbs. Abdomen distended.

Put your eyes and hands on your pet to determine his BCS. If you’ve scored your cat or dog as being Stout or Obese, then you need a plan to promote healthy weight loss.

How do I promote a healthy weight and BCS for my dog or cat?

I’ve created a 5-step plan to help owners promote their pets to lose weight and keep it off:

  1. Schedule an examination with your veterinarian

Some ailments (arthritis, hypothyroidism, etc.) can contribute to your pet’s overweight status and can be diagnosed through your veterinarian’s physical examination and recommended diagnostics (blood/urine testing, X-rays, etc.). Your veterinarian can also determine if your pet is healthy enough to start an exercise program and advise on the most appropriate form of activity.

  1. Enforce calorie restriction and portion control

Always feed your pet at the lower end of the manufacturer’s suggested range per body weight (per day) and use a metric measuring cup to determine the proper portion.  Once your pet’s ideal weight has been established, your veterinarian can calculate the number of calories to be consumed per day to achieve that goal (ask him or her to do so at your next appointment).

Eating fewer calories can actually help your pet live longer. In a 2002 study, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine scientists discovered that dogs fed a calorie-restricted diet lived nearly two years longer than those consuming additional calories. The dogs evaluated in this fourteen-year study were also less prone to painful osteoarthritis.

  1. Feed less processed pet foods and more whole foods

All food, whether for pets or for people, provides some of the building blocks needed for body tissue development and maintenance.  Fresh, moist, and human-grade protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources are more bioavailable (able to be utilized) for your pet than feed-grade ingredients found in most kibble and canned pet foods that have been radically altered from nature’s creation.

Transition your pet off kibble or moist pet diets onto one of The Honest Kitchen‘s canine or feline formulas.  Discontinue pet treats containing feed-grade ingredients (some of which even contain known toxins and carcinogens) and provide appropriate amounts of The Honest Kitchen’s line of healthy pet treats.

  1. Feed more frequent meals

Provide an appropriately-measured meal for your pet at least every 12 hours. More frequent feeding reduces bingeing and promotes slower eating, less aerophagia (swallowing of air), improved digestion, and consistent metabolic rate.

If you can’t be home to feed your pet on time, use a timed feeder to provide a measured portion of food at the same daily intervals.  Treats can also be given via a food-dispensing toy, which provides your canine or feline companion with behavioral and physical stimulation while restricting portions.

  1. Commit to daily exerciseblog2

We all have the same number of hours in each day, yet how we use that time is our personal choice.  Even if it’s only for 30 minutes, engage in some form of exercise with your pet on a daily basis.

When starting out, do simple workouts like taking your dog for a brisk walk in your neighborhood or motivating your cat’s movement with a laser or feather toy. Increase the duration and intensity of the activity as your pet’s fitness progresses.

You’ll also benefit from engaging in exercise with your pet. The PPET (People Pets Exercising Together) Study proved that owners who regularly exercised with their dog were better able to stick with their own workout plan than participants without the companionship of a canine.

With consistency and dedication to healthy habits, your companion canine or feline can lead a higher quality of life.  The best quality of life possible should always be the goal of pet owners.

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

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