What is Obesity?
Many pet owners do not think that their over-weight pet has a problem. However, the truth of the matter is that obesity in pets poses serious health risks and it is something that vets are seeing more and more of.
In fact, recent statistics revealed that obese and over-weight pets are more common than normal-weight pets. Being obese means that extra demands are placed on every organ in your pet’s body, strain is placed on joints and bones, and your pet is at higher risk for a number of illnesses and health concerns such as:
- liver disease
- joint conditions such as arthritis and hip dysplasia
- increased surgical and anesthetic risks
- skin conditions including acne in cats
- difficulty breathing and respiratory disease
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- digestive problems
- decreased immune functioning
- heat intolerance
The list of obesity-related health concerns is long and concerning. In addition to shortened length of life, obese pets generally have a poorer quality of life. They tend to be inactive because even basic actions are energy consuming and strenuous. They spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable which can lead to increased irritability and depressed mood. If you think your pet might be obese, then now is time to take action!
What Causes Obesity?
In nature, there is a natural balance between food intake and energy expenditure. Animals must hunt for their food, an energy consuming task, and the food they eat is low in fats and sugars. In domestic animals, this balance is often lost. Life-style factors often mean that pets eat more than what they require, and the food they eat is often not appropriate for their digestive systems, many pet foods being high in carbohydrates, and low in protein.
In addition, life-style factors, poor diets, environmental toxins and sluggish metabolisms often result in poor liver functioning meaning pets are unable to effectively remove toxins or eliminate unwanted fats from their bodies.
However, while too much food in relation to too little exercise is the most common cause of obesity, there are a number of illnesses that can also cause pets to gain weight.
- Insulinoma – a tumor in the pancreas that causes excessive insulin production
- Pituitary gland and brain diseases
- Cushing’s disease
In addition, various factors including sterilization, medications, age, genetics, social and physical environments could contribute to pets gaining weight.
There are a few ways to tell if your pet is over-weight or obese. Generally speaking, if your pet is weighs 20% or more above what it used to weigh when it was young and healthy, then your pet may very well be obese.
You should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs if you run your hands along its side and when your pet is standing, it should have a visible waist and a tummy that doesn’t bulge or hang! Your vet will be able to be more accurate by weighing your pet and comparing this measurement against what is considered normal for that specific breed of cat or dog.
During this veterinary consult, your vet should also check for underlying conditions that may have caused weight gain, or possible health concerns that have developed as a result of the weight gain.
Help for Obesity
The first step to treating obese pets is to implement a strict dietary change and exercise program that will encourage weight loss. Your vet will be able to advise on what exercise and diet will best suit your pet’s dietary and physical needs, and will also aim at treating any underlying causes or consequences of the obesity. In some case, your vet may recommend a special high quality diet food that will help your pet lose weight.
Helping your pet lose that extra weight is no easy task, but luckily nature has a few natural ingredients to assist with the process. The mineral rich sea vegetable, Fucus vesiculosis will help increase your pet’s metabolism by assisting in the production of thyroid hormones.
Other beneficial weight-loss ingredients include Curcuma longa which helps with the break-down of dietary fats, and Milk Thistle which is renowned for its beneficial effects of the liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing fats in the body.
More Information on Obesity
Tips for obese pets
- Many pet owners opt for free-choice feeding, meaning they set a bowel of food out which is always full for when their pet is hungry. While some pets manage fine on this eating option, and only eat when they are hungry, some pets over-eat and don’t know when to stop. Free-choice feeding also allows for eating out of boredom. Over-weight pets should rather be fed smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Some pets are fussy and turn their noses up at healthy food. However, you should avoid falling into this trap as pets are only as fussy as we allow them to be. Just as a good parent wouldn’t allow their children to demand take-outs every night, so we must draw the line and encourage healthy eating. Don’t stress too much if your pet looks at his or her new diet and walks away – eventually they’ll get hungry and slowly adapt to healthier dietary tastes. Remember that it’s for their own good!
- Just like humans, pets only burn off the energy they use, and so high-energy diets, table scraps, and treats are going to convert into fat if you have a sedentary pet whose main daily activity is walking to the food bowel. Your pet’s daily activity levels should help guide what type of diet and amount of food your pet needs.
- Pets can often pick up weight after being spayed and neutered due to hormonal changes, and a decrease in activity levels. In fact, they tend to need about 20% less food than pets that have not been sterilized. That is not to say they should not be sterilized, but dietary changes after the operation may be necessary.
- Encourage exercise! Some pets are naturally more active than others, but most pets can be enticed into doing some form of daily exercise. Taking dogs for daily walks is essential and if your dog likes playing fetch, then regular trips to the park with a ball will help your pet lose some of those extra pounds. While daily walks for cats are usually not an option, most cats can’t resist a game of mouse-on-a-string. Ping-pong balls are also a firm favorite and you may be quite surprised at how active you "lazy" cat becomes when trying to catch something!
- Your pet’s eating habits can be effected by a number of factors including stress, boredom and perceived competition for food with other pets. Watch out for these factors and address them when they come up.
- We often fall into the habit of rewarding our pets with food. This can teach your pet that food is the only validation of your approval and attention. Rather ditch the food treats and shower your pet with affection and verbal rewards. Toys also make great rewards for dogs.