Achieving a Healthy Weight

By September 26, 2016 Uncategorized

Overweight and obese pets are something we see here daily at the clinic. By far, there are more overweight pets than not. It is common to give our pets extra treats or table scraps as a form of affection, but being overweight or obese carries a variety of concerns. Offering these rewards, though they help improve quality of life in the moment, do not promote increased longevity as we see our pets gain weight.
It is important to recognize that your pet is overweight or obese as this increases their health risks and can predispose them to several disease conditions. These include, but are not limited to: increased anesthetic risk, heart disease, blood clot formation, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, urinary tract disease, skin disease (such as infections of the skin folds or otherwise), degenerative joint disease, ligament or other soft tissue injuries and even cancer for example. Being overweight or obese can also decrease the life span of your pet. Let’s look in to some of these further:
1) Obesity puts unnecessary stress on the joints, which in turn leads to a more rapid degeneration and pain to the pet. This pain, in turn causes the pet to become less mobile, which then further increases their weight. To delve in to this further, managing your pets weight, can minimize or in some instances, eliminate the need for pain support medications.
2) Just like their human companions, excess fat can increase insulin resistance in cats, thus promoting diabetes.
3) A study done on Labrador Retrievers indicated that a dog that is of ideal or lean body condition will live 2 years longer than one that is overweight or obese.
Occasionally, being overweight or obese can indicate an underlying disease condition such as hypothyroidism, due to an underactive thyroid gland.
There are a variety of factors that can promote obesity in our pets. Each pet has unique caloric needs and not every pet will carry the same needs. Over-nutrition is by far the most common cause. This includes too much kibble or canned food fed per day, along with additional treats and table scraps! Here is more of a look in to some of the contributing factors:
1) The measurement of food plays a large role. When a recommendation for the amount of cups to be fed per day is given, this is referring to the use of an actual measuring cup that we’d use to measure our own ingredients with. One cup is exactly one measured cup of food. There will be a great variance in measurements between individuals within the home and it is important to recognize this.
2) The guidelines of the food package do not match the needs of your pet and the pet is actually being overfed.
3) You’re feeding too many treats. We all know this is an important part in the bond we share with our beloved furry friends, but in reality this is harming our pets. These treats often carry with them a high calorie count, so a few extra treats can mean a whole lot of extra calories for your pet.
4) Genetics can play a big role in obesity. We all know that the Golden or Labrador Retrievers are more much obese prone than a Grey Hound for example. Other common breeds, predisposed to obesity are: Dachshunds, Beagles, Pugs, Basset Hounds, Boxer’s etc. Majority of cats seem to trend towards obesity.
5) Your pet is spayed or neutered. This often slows metabolism and promotes increased fat storage in the body.
So, how do we determine if your pet is overweight or obese? Your veterinarian will perform a body condition score on your pet. Generally, this is an assessment by palpating the coverage over the ribs and assessing for an obvious “waist” from the chest to the abdomen when looking down at the pet or a tuck in the belly where it meets the hind legs when looking at the pet from the side. An easy way to determine what the ribs should feel like is to hold your hand, palm down, flat on a table. Now, take your other hand, and feel the knuckles of that hand. This is what it should feel like when you are feeling your pets’ rib cage, in a standing position, just behind the shoulder blades. Your vet will give your pet a body condition out of 5 or 9. A body condition of 3/5 or 4.5/9 is considered an ideal body condition. That is, your pet is not overweight. A body condition greater than 3/5 or 5/9 indicates that your pet is overweight or obese.
Once we have determined that your pet is overweight or obese, we will recommend an appropriate weight loss program for your pet. At this point, it is important to determine an appropriate caloric intake to promote weight loss while maintaining the pets’ daily energy requirements. It is then recommended to transition to a calorie restricted diet (typically in the 200-300 kcal/cup range). These calorie restricted diets ensure that your pet maintains a balanced diet for its daily needs, while promoting weight loss. Further, they allow your pet to EAT MORE FOOD, which helps to satiate them better. It is NOT recommended to just decrease the daily feeding amount of an adult maintenance diet or diet not designed for weight loss as this will severely restrict your pet of its daily required nutrients and promotes malnutrition. Your veterinarian or a trained veterinary technician can help you determine an appropriate daily caloric intake and diet for your pet. There are several prescription diets available at your veterinary clinic and some appropriate pet store diets geared towards caloric restriction and thus ideal for weight loss.
So, now that we have an appropriate daily caloric intake and diet selected, what do we do?
1) It is recommended to transition to the new diet over 5-7 days to ensure that your pet does not suffer gastrointestinal upset (vomiting or diarrhea), from this diet change.
2) To promote weight loss and boost metabolism, it is recommended to feed two to three measured meals throughout the day rather than free feeding or feeding once daily. Ensure that you are measuring correctly. Use a measuring cup with actual measurements, or weight the food (as directed) with each feeding. Have one person in the home measure the food to maintain consistency. Pre-measure food in to containers, if this is not possible, and counts out the amount of treats, or separate some kibble from the daily food dose for rewards. Advise all family members in the home, that once these premeasured doses are gone, the pet is not to be fed any more for the day. If your pet does not eat all of its food that day, do not offer it the next day in addition and only add the recommended daily food dose.
3) All table scraps should be discontinued to promote the best weight loss routine.
4) Treats should be limited to veterinary approved calorie restricted treats. Another option is to or set aside some of the pets kibble for the day, to reward them with as necessary.
5) Increase exercise gradually to promote weight loss. Swimming is an excellent exercise to promote weight loss as it is very low impact and prevents the risk of injury. Rotation of toys and use toys that pets can interact with when you’re not home is important, to maintain interest. There are also specialized feeders and toys which promote interaction and encourage the pet to “work” for its food. Some good options to promote exercise in cats include: litter boxes, food dishes and water dishes on different levels in the home, pull string toys or laser pointers, along with the rotation of toys and recommended feeders/toys discussed above etc.
6) Commit to regular weigh-ins to be realistic about whether or not your pet is achieving the recommended weight loss, appropriately. This will allow us to ensure that your pet is responding and further, to make adjustments to their weight loss program as necessary. Typically, once monthly weigh-ins are appropriate.
Once your pet has achieved its healthy weigh, your veterinary team will guide you in how to maintain their weight. Keep in mind that it is still important to continue to regularly weigh in your pet, even if they have achieved an ideal weight, to ensure that they are not re-gaining weight.
It is important to know that weight loss will not happen overnight, and takes consistency and dedication by us as owners. However, when looking at the bigger picture, promoting lean and ideal body conditions will improve our pets quality of life, can prolong their life span and reduce their health risks drastically. That alone, is well worth the time and effort.

Leave a Reply