The vet’s office: Obesity defined
Excess weight negatively impacts pet health and longevity
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Dogs and cats in America and around the world are becoming overweight and obese, and the problem stems from many causes.
The definition of obesity in pets is the same as in people, which is a body weight at least 20 percent greater than ideal. Numerous studies in cats and dogs show the rates of obesity to range from 20 percent to over 40 percent of adult pets, and numbers are increasing.
Animal factors such as dog or cat breed, age, neuter status, and growth rate as juveniles may increase the risks for adult obesity. There are also owner factors such as the choice of diet, feeding schedules, and amounts of exercise provided. The health consequences are real, and studies show life spans are shortened when pets are obese.
Many years ago my family had a mixed-breed dog that became obese as she reached middle age. Around the same time my mother decided to join a local chapter of a weight loss support group, and soon our kitchen and family bulletin board had motivational diet posters. My sisters and I made similar posters for the dog and placed them at her feeding station. We also committed to walking our dog regularly and playing more with her. Both my mother and the dog achieved weight loss and maintained it. Our dog lived to be 18 years old, and even at 16 years old she was still able to enjoy long walks.
I use this story to show that we needed to recognize that our dog was obese before we could create a weight loss program for her. Our family veterinarian likely told us how our dog was at increased risk for joint problems, heart disease, liver disease, skin problems, insulin resistance, and a shorter life span. The veterinary team helped us to realize what an ideal weight was for our dog. Now owners can use tools such as the nine-point body conditioning system, which is found online, to readily score their own pets. This provides a more accurate screening and allows one to track progress during weight loss.
Owners of obese pets will have to change their feeding practices. Years ago it was much simpler. There were very few low-calorie dog foods, and owners likely just reduced the amounts fed and eliminated most snacking. Now the diet options are overwhelming, and it may take some research to find what works best for your pet. Label feeding directions often overestimate what your pet needs.
In summary, it takes both an owner and the veterinary team committing to achieve ideal weight in pets. We are our pets’ best advocates.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.