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Obesity in Pets - What Can You Do?

Is your pet overweight or even obese? Obesity in pets is an epidemic that mirrors the problem in the human population. Data gathered in 2002 by the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that 40% of pet dogs in the United States were either overweight or obese. More recent data gathered about middle aged pets (those between 5 and 12 years of age) suggests that in this group, the number is 50% or higher. Unfortunately, many pet owners do not recognize that their pet is not in ideal body condition.

Obesity is harmful to the health of your pet dog or cat. When pets are obese, their fat cells actually product substances that increase inflammation within the body. This is especially detrimental within the joints and can contribute to the breakdown of healthy joint cartilage. In some breeds of dogs, this excess weight can contribute to orthopedic problems such as ruptured cruciate ligaments in the knees and disk disease in the back. These problems require surgical correction and recovery is more difficult because of the extra weight that the dog is carrying.

Overweight and obese cats are more likely to develop diabetes than cats that are in ideal body condition. This occurs because the fat cells in obese cats produce a hormone that is responsible for the inability of the body to properly respond to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Just like overweight humans, overweight cats can develop diabetes that is responsive to weight reduction and dietary management. These cats may not require insulin therapy once their weight is decreased.

So, what is the best approach to managing your pet’s body condition? The first step is to enlist the help of your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can teach you how to evaluate your pet’s body condition. The ideal is lean body condition. Because we are so accustomed to seeing our overweight pets, we may think that our overweight pets are ideal and our pets that are in perfect body condition are too “skinny”. The ribs should not be visible, but should be very easily felt when running your hands along your pet’s ribcage. From the side, your pet should have a tucked up abdomen (no flab hanging down from that kitty’s belly) and if your pet is standing up and you are looking down on them, there should be an obvious waist between the end of the ribcage and the beginning of the hips. If your pet is found to be above the ideal body condition score, your veterinarian can help by calculating the required calorie intake for your pet to achieve the ideal condition. The point that is critical to understand is that on a 9 point body condition scale, a 5 is ideal and every point above 5 indicates a 10-15% increase over ideal. Obesity is diagnosed when a pet is more than 20% over ideal and it is quite possible that pets are not recognized as obese when they truly are.

Modification of your pet’s diet, along with increased activity, should help your pet return to a healthier condition in short order. It is very important for you to record all foods that are being fed to your pet, and I mean ALL! Weight gain occurs when calories that enter the body are greater than calories that are being utilized. This is a simple concept that seems to be quite difficult to understand. Your veterinarian will be able to calculate the proper number of calories that your pet should consume in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, this number may need to be modified to individualize the program to your pet so be patient if immediate success is not achieved. Diet change to a low calorie, weight-reducing diet will likely be necessary to achieve desired results. High protein, low carbohydrate formulas are especially useful for weight management in cats, but may also help overweight dogs.

Increasing your pet’s activity is very beneficial. However, some pets are so overweight, that any exercise is a real challenge. In some areas, water therapy and water exercise might be an option. Sometimes diet and exercise need just a little help. Well, help will soon be available in the form of new medication. Slentrol, being launched by Pfizer Animal Health, worked in a clinical trial (combined with diet and exercise) to reduce weight by 11% in one half of the participating dogs. It is important to change your dog’s diet prior to beginning the medication. Slentrol suppresses your dog’s appetite and will decrease food intake by 50%. In most dogs, it did cause vomiting, but this side effect was usually mild and limited to one or two episodes. Also, many of the dogs in clinical trials did have mild liver enzyme elevation, which resolved when the medication was discontinued. Your dog should receive a complete physical examination and prescreening labwork prior to beginning the medication. The therapy can continue for up to a year.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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