Could You be Killing your Pet with Kindness??
A sensitive subject to be sure, but it is important to address this “weighty” issue…
It happens to so many pet owners: you take your furry companion to the veterinarian, only to be told that the animal is getting a little on the heavy side, and that it would be in Fido’s best interest for him to go on a diet.
You may even get up the guts to tell the veterinarian, “Fido is just perfect! He’s not that overweight and besides, we like him just the way he is. He adores his treats and we can’t disappoint Grandpa–he loves to feed him sausages and hamburgers from McDonald’s!”
But take a deep breath: the veterinarian is right. It is very hard to admit that your pet just may be a little too heavy and that a diet is in order. At first, you may even feel defensive–as if you’ve been insulted on behalf of the animal. But, it’s not that the doctor doesn’t love the way your pleasantly plump animal looks (after all, there’s more of the pet to love), but that he or she cares about Fido’s health. There is a very good reason why veterinarians encourage owners to place their overweight pets on the “weight watch.” Obesity is a major threat to animal health. It can even be a killer.
Obesity in animals is defined as an excess of body weight great enough to cause harm to the animal’s body function. Generally, an animal is obese when its weight is approximately 20 to 25 percent above the weight range considered “ideal” for its size and species.
The health complications that overweight or obese animals may face are tremendous. Affected animals are at risk for developing musculoskeletal problems, skin diseases, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cancer, bacterial and viral infections, heat or exercise intolerance, and complications from underlying heart disease. Other health problems that may potentially be linked to obesity include orthopedic, cardiac, reproductive, and neurologic disorders. Severely obese animals may be at greater risk for surgical and anesthetic complications.
In addition, dogs that become obese at a young age are at an increased risk for developing mammary tumors or cancer. Obese cats are at risk for early mortality and possibly hepatic lipidosis, a disease that occurs when lipids–or fats–accumulating in the liver cells prevent the liver from functioning normally. This condition is serious: it can even be deadly. Dogs with hip dyspepsia that have a weight problem often develop severe clinical signs of lameness due to the abnormal stresses that excess weight places on the hips.
After determining that Fido needs to lose weight, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam. After all, there can be medical reasons why an animal looks heavy–other than too many groceries. Blood work, x-rays, and an ultrasound may be necessary to determine if there is an underlying medical disease. If your pet is found to be free of such problems, then a weight loss program can be started.
Your animal will be given a body condition score (BCS). This is a score that is based on visual assessment and palpation of the animal’s body. The animal’s weight will also be recorded and together with the BCS, the ideal body weight will be determined. To reach this goal, it will be important for you to monitor your pet’s food intake (only feed the determined amount of food that your veterinarian has advised), and increase his daily exercise. Assess body weight loss every two weeks or monthly on a scale at home or at your veterinarian’s office.
Your veterinarian will be able to place your animal on an appropriate weight-loss plan that is both safe and effective. Often, he or she will prescribe a nutrient-modified diet that is formulated to promote weight loss–rather than feeding restricted amounts of a regular maintenance diet. The veterinarian will determine how much (how many cups) of food your pet should eat each day. It’s best to then take this amount and divide it up into a minimum of two feedings daily. Multiple feedings a day helps to increase the animal’s metabolic rate, which acts to promote weight loss. It may also reduce “begging.”
Overall, prescription diets are very effective in promoting safe weight loss because they have reduced dietary fat and energy, and increased dietary fiber. A benefit of increased dietary fiber is that it is less digestible; it also promotes the total digestibility of energy and other nutrients. Fiber also acts to make the animal feel full and satisfied. In addition, it is believed that fiber may increase overall metabolic energy expenditure.
As far as treats are concerned, because they are often a valuable and important part of the relationship between owners and their pets, they should not be totally eliminated. Instead, the veterinarian will encourage you to offer a certain amount of low-fat snacks–instead of high calorie treats.
One suggestion for dealing with your pet’s need for treats is to put a handful of the low-fat diet into a sealable bag and place it where the “treat area” is located. Then, instead of giving that higher calorie treat, give several pieces of the food from the bag. Humans will notice when they’re fed carrots instead of donuts, but will be happy just to be getting a “treat.” This is a much better option than offering traditional, high-fat fare. It is amazing how just a few bones a day add enough calories to an animal’s diet to make weight-loss plans and diets a complete failure.
It should go with out saying that a dieting pet shouldn’t be given table scraps–but even for animals at a healthy weight, they can be dangerous. The fattier table scraps can cause severe gastrointestinal disorders as well as a very painful, serious condition called pancreatitis. This disease can require expensive hospitalization and aggressive supportive treatment with intravenous fluids and medications.
Daily walks and an appropriate amount of exercise can help increase the amount of calories burned. They also will help you and Fido get into better shape. Walks can even be substituted for treats, as animals really just want your love and attention–whether it comes in the form of a biscuit or a stroll through the park.
Talk to your veterinarian about a safe weight loss plan and which diet you should be feeding your pet. He or she also can determine how much food your animal should be allowed to eat in a day. These steps combined with monthly “weigh-ins” and exercise will ensure that your pet lives a long and high-quality life.