MY Dog . . . Overweight??
Dr. Adam Calcutt (TVV Decatur) reports: It's that time of year again when in preparation for spring I put away the winter clothes and really get serious about the New Year’s resolution – the one I made over two months ago. I lace up my running shoes and head out the door with my trusted running partner, Tusker – an 83 pound chocolate labradoodle. Wait! Eighty-three pounds! It's happened...MY dog is overweight! Exercise, diet and moderation are terms that don’t just apply to me - and now I'm faced with the daunting prospect of encouraging weight loss and preventing obesity in the most food-driven animal I know. With this in mind, I thought I would share the importance of recognizing risk factors that contribute to a pet’s potential for an above average weight and the health risks to your pet associated with being overweight.
Obesity affects far more pets than you might expect and studies have shown that fewer than 20% of dog owners are able to recognize when their pet is overweight. I estimate that 50% of the patients I see have an above average weight and I would consider at least 15% of these obese. Depending on the source, your pet might be considered clinically obese if 15% to 20% above what would be considered their ideal weight. To help assess this, a Body condition score (BCS) can be applied to your pet where on a scale of one to nine, a score of 1-2 would represent emaciation, 3-4 under condition, 5 would be ideal, 6-7 overweight and 8-9 would signify obesity.
The most common cause of obesity is overeating and lack of exercise, which translates to excess energy being stored as fat. Pets are members of the family, and sharing food is a fun way of showing affection and strengthening this relationship. Food is often considered a reward more than a source of nutrition and energy, and it can also be used as an apology during times that we feel guilty, say if we arrive home late from work for example. Even though unintentional, this can be harmful, particularly when feeding flavorful foods and treats that have high fat and carbohydrate contents.
Sometimes excess weight can occur during puppy hood, which often leads to adult obesity. This is important to know, as this is the time that rewards and treats are most often provided, and a natural tendency to overfeed occurs. Female dogs are more prone to becoming obese than males, and spayed females are more likely to be obese than intact females. However, the health benefits of spaying or neutering outweigh the risk of a slower metabolism and potential weight gain. A wide array of hormonal and metabolic disorders can also lead to or complicate canine obesity. They range from hypothyroidism to hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings).
Obesity is not just about having too much body fat; it can cause certain diseases, make other diseases worse, and can affect quality of life as well as reduce a pet's life expectancy. Some direct consequences of obesity are diabetes mellitus as the demand for insulin secretion increases and exercise intolerance as breathing difficulty and decreased stamina can occur. Research also suggests that overweight pets have increased risk of mammary tumors, urinary bladder cancer, and urinary incontinence. Heart disease and increased blood pressure can also develop or worsen as the amount of tissue requiring blood supply rises and creates more demand on the cardiopulmonary system. Lung disease, skin and coat problems, compromised immune function, and predisposition to injury such as cruciate ligament and intervertebral disk rupture are also documented. Almost all of the obese dogs that I see have premature damage to joints, bones and/or ligaments. Overweight patients also have a slower recovery from surgical procedures, regardless of whether or not the surgery was a result of being overweight.
There are many useful online tools that help pet owners determine whether their pet is obese or at risk for obesity. The BCS index can help determine your pet’s body condition, and formulas such as the BARC (developed by Pfizer) can aid in recognizing risk factors. However, a medical weight loss program must be formulated by your veterinarian, and will likely include a reduced calorie diet, a schedule of feeding times and amounts, and exercise. One of the most important aspects of this treatment to understand is that the relationship established with your pet regarding food must be modified. This includes not allowing pets to be present when preparing and eating your own food, and not giving table and/or fast food.
In order to determine if your pet would benefit from weight loss please consult your veterinarian for a full examination and discussion regarding current lifestyle and diet. Your veterinarian might recommend diagnostics to rule out or treat concurrent disease. Remember that obesity is a chronic disease and that successful treatment, although prolonged, is possible. Good nutrition and lifestyle are integral to having your pet maintain an optimal BCS, which in turn will enhance their quality of life, decrease the risk of disease often associated with obesity, and minimize the exacerbation of existing health problems.
Dr. Adam Calcutt is a part of TVV Decatur Vet Team