Have you made any New Year Resolutions? According to one study, the most popular resolution is to lose weight or get in shape! However, while we are all aware of the risks to human health from the “obesity crisis”, did you know that there are equal concerns about animal health?
How many pets are actually overweight?
Roughly half of all dogs and cats, a quarter to a third of small animals, and one in ten birds. These are really massive numbers, so how reliable are they?
Well, the 2018 PDSA PAW Report suggested that 46% of dogs, 53% of cats, and 26% of rabbits are obese. Only one survey you say? Well, consider this – last year’s PFMA Data Report broadly supported these figures, with vets estimating 52% of dogs, 47% of cats, 30% of small pets, and 12% of birds were obese.
How do I know if my pet is one of them – after all, pet’s come in all different sizes naturally, don’t they?
Yes, that’s very true – unlike people, for whom the natural ideal weight is pretty consistent (it only varies by, at most, a factor of 2 – supposedly, over 90% of the population has a healthy weight between 50 and 100kg), for many of our pets, centuries of selective breeding have resulted in dramatically different body sizes and shapes. For example, a 1kg Chihuahua and a 100kg Newfoundland are both potentially within the normal weights for their breeds, but there’s a 100 fold difference in bodyweight!
So, instead, we use a system called body condition scoring. This lets us estimate how much fat the patient is carrying. There are several different systems – some score out of 10, others out of 5, but the principle is the same, that the “halfway point” is the ideal weight. Some of the best online ones are from the pet food manufacturers’ association (PFMA) website, and covers dogs, cats, rabbits, and a range of other pets too!
Why is it a problem?
Obesity is a significant risk factor for several serious health conditions in dogs and cats. Heart disease is what we automatically jump to, but it seems to be much less tightly linked to obesity in animals than it is in humans; however, there is now evidence that obesity is associated with changes in heart function that may predispose to heart problems over time.
- Arthritis – all that extra weight being carried puts extra stress on the joints.
- Musculoskeletal injuries – especially ligament strains and ruptures.
- Respiratory problems – abdominal fat also increases the risk of difficulty breathing; and in some dogs may be a trigger for tracheal collapse syndrome.
- Skin disease – fat leads to skin folds, which can result in uncomfortable moist dermatitis.
- Cystitis – in cats it is well established that being overweight is a risk factor for cystitis and even a blocked bladder (which is a potentially fatal medical emergency).
- Cancer – obese animals have more tissues that can potentially become cancerous.
- Diabetes mellitus – just like people, obese animals may develop insulin resistance and diabetes, analogous to Type 2 Diabetes in humans.
- Increased anaesthetic risks – an obese animal is at more risk of complications under a general anaesthetic.
- Reduced quality of life – this is a massive one, because new research actually suggests fatter dogs are more unhappy than their thinner counterparts!
Finally, it has recently been demonstrated that being overweight or obese leads to a shorter lifespan, with obese dogs living as much as 2½ years shorter than those of healthy weight.
What can be done?
Simple – obese animals need to consume less energy than they’re using. This may mean increasing exercise (which is all to the good, as long as you don’t overdo it!). However, it is only rarely effective on its own – in most cases, we need to feed less as well.
But he looks so hungry!
Of course he does – and it often feels really cruel! However, you can help by using a diet specially formulated to make pets feel full, but still providing restricted calories. It’s also VITAL that you measure out food, and do not be tempted to give any treats, extras, or (worst of all!) human food.
Can anyone help?
Yes, we can. We offer nursing clinics for weight management. Our trained veterinary nurses can help you with weigh-ins, condition scoring, and working out a diet plan. We can supply food, and even weigh out rations of food for you to help you get the portion sizes right. We know it’s hard, don’t worry – we won’t judge, because most of us have been there before!