Overweight Bodies and Obesity in Dogs and Cats

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Overweight Bodies and Obesity in Dogs and Cats

Recent studies by two different groups have confirmed without a doubt that the overweight and obesity issues America has with its pets not only continues to be a concern, but it has worsened since I first wrote about it in 2014. A recent study by Banfield Pet Hospital, the corporate animal hospital that has more than 1,500 locations across the country, released their study last month indicating that more than one-third of all pet dogs and cats that visit Banfield Animal Hospitals are overweight or obese. The Banfield Study included more than 3 million pets that were analyzed. That study was released just months after the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) issued its 2016 clinical survey indicating that 54% of all dogs are overweight and cats are almost 59% overweight. The APOP Study included many dogs and cats that visited animal hospitals across the country. In fact, in the past ten years, the number of cats that are overweight is up 169% and dogs are close behind with 158% more of them reaching the overweight category. This is certainly a crisis in our pet population in America.

Why do pets become overweight? There are many answers to this question; however, in the final analysis, it is up to the pet owners to show responsible pet ownership. Dogs and cats cannot open refrigerators and metal cans of pet food. Nor should they be able to tear open a sack of dry pet food as it should be stored in a safe place that is unavailable to the pets in the household. The primary reason pets become overweight is lack of exercise and over feeding them. Dogs should be taken on a daily walk for a minimum of 30 minutes. They should be encouraged to run and jump when you are playing with them by throwing a ball, frisbee or some other physical activity. Cats should be encouraged to play with a ball, a feather teaser on a string, jingle toys and treat toy for food. These food dispensers offer a treat in the end if the pet can figure out how to search out the treat in the toy. I am especially fond of a treat or meal dispenser called Clever-Pet, an internet connected feeding device that requires your dog to activate buttons or pads in a special order to get the food or treat out. It takes physical activity and brain power to gain success. Most types of pet food bowls can be purchased at the local pet store; however, increasingly people are searching the internet to find these special items. They are worth the price. Perhaps the biggest reason pets get fat is that owners often use food or snacks as a form of communication and love. Instead of treats, go for a walk with the dog or play with a toy with a cat. Build a climbing structure that cats can climb up and down daily. Cats like to be above the commotion of most home environments anyway, and a climbing pole or platform forces them to use muscles and stretch tendons that help them keep their optimal weight. A slice of cheese or a peanut butter filled snack may carry as much as one-third of the daily caloric need for a 10-pound dog. That represents 33% of the daily calories needed, while in an adult human that slice of cheese may represent only 5% of the calories needed. Do not feed your pets from the table. They have a habit of begging for a treat and we choose to show love by giving them excess calories. Don’t do it!

Most people have a misconception of what constitutes the normal weight for a dog or cat depending on its breed, structure, and age. Studies show 95% of overweight dog owners and 90% of cat owners identify their pets as normal weight. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has created a Body Condition Scoring (BCS) chart for both dogs and cats. Body Condition Scoring or BCS is one way of determining if a pet is overweight, underweight or is carrying ideal weight. I have attached them here for your use to score your dog or cat; however, you can go on line to:


http://www.petobesityprevention.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/CatBCS_APOP.pdf

http://www.petobesityprevention.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/DogBCS_APOP.pdf

These charts provide the degree of body condition for your pets by providing guidelines regarding what an emaciated, thin, normal, overweight, and obese pet looks and feels like on a scale from 1 to 5. It is usually determined that pets are overweight when they reach Level 4 and obese when then are determined to be at Level 5. Approximately 16.7% of dogs have reached the Level 5 standard and are obese, and cats are even more noticeable at 27.4% obesity with a Level 5 rating.




Certain diseases can cause overweight pets, like osteoarthritis that hampers their mobility. The breed and genetics of a dog or cat can determine their level of weight. Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels are prone to weight gains. Manx and Main Coon cats carry more weight than other breeds. Pets that exercise require more calories, so must be fed more. Sedentary pets need fewer calories to maintain normal weight. Likewise, small pets require fewer calories to maintain optimal weight. Older pets have slower metabolism and are usually less active than younger pets, therefore, they need fewer calories each day. Not feeding table scraps, monitoring the amount of food you give, limiting treats, and establishing a workable exercise schedule are all important steps in maintaining optimal weight for your pets. Discuss all these considerations with your veterinary team and set up a plan to do whatever is necessary to take the excess weight off your pet family member.

Carrying excess pounds can have serious health consequences for a pet’s overall health, pain management, well-being, and length of life. On average, dogs that are grossly overweight live two years less than a dog of the same breed, and under essentially the same living conditions. A healthy weight may delay the onset of many chronic diseases like arthritis and dermatitis. As a pet’s weight increases, so do many of its health issues. Add to that the fact that overweight pets increase the cost to their owners by a considerable amount. It has been established in the studies that owners with overweight dogs spend 17% more than healthy-weight dogs. And cat owners with overweight or obese cats spend 36% more on diagnostic procedures alone. The cost is significant. Nationwide Pet Insurance, a national provider of health insurance for pets, reports that insurance claims for conditions and diseases related to pet obesity rose by 10% over the past two years. In 2014, the insurance company received more than 42,000 claims for arthritis in dogs, the most common obesity-related disease, with an average treatment cost of $292 per pet. Obese cats suffered, most from bladder and urinary tract diseases, with more than 4,700 pet insurance claims for those conditions and an average claim amount of $424 per cat. So, owning and maintaining an overweight or obese pet has significant costs associated with it. The important things to remember to get your pet back in shape is: consult with your veterinary team to determine how many pounds your pet needs to shed, do not feed your pet table scraps, closely monitor the amount of food your pet receives each and every day, limit the “love” treats you give to your pet to only a few each day remembering their bodies may be smaller and calories add up fast, and establishing and maintaining a daily exercise plan through walking, running, bicycling, throwing a ball or frisbee or whatever means you can think of to make it happen. Put a feather teaser on a fishing line and spend 30 minutes encouraging the cat to chase it all over the house.

The most common obesity related conditions for dogs are arthritis, bladder and urinary tract infection, low thyroid hormone levels, torn knee ligaments, liver disease, diabetes, disc disease in the spine, fatty growths, chronic kidney disease and heart failure. Cats have many of the same conditions; however, cats can show severe asthma, gall bladder disease and high blood pressure in addition to most of those conditions seen in dogs. Prevention is the key to a healthy pet weight. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian and following their plan can keep your pet at a healthy weight and eliminate many of these disease and physical conditions. Most major pet food manufacturers have spent mega-dollars to research the formulation of pet foods. The protein, fat and carbohydrate content is carefully measured and formulated to serve the nutritional needs of your pet in relation to life stages such as puppy, growth stage, adult maintenance, and senior age. Reducing diets are now available at most pet food markets and if the instructions are followed and your pet gets adequate exercise, his body condition will improve and his life span should increase. Follow the advice of your veterinarian and the instructions on the pet food label and it will be much easier to maintain the optimal weight and body condition for your pet. Multiple family members passing out treats and rewards for being a “good dog” may not be in the best interest of the pet. Overweight and obese pets are not unlike their human counterparts regarding the need for shedding off pounds. Finally, it takes discipline and commitment to accomplish the goal. Develop a plan and stick to it and the reward will be a more active, more loveable, and longer living pet with less trips to the veterinarian to treat conditions that develop due to excess weight. And remember to “walk your dog, it will do you both good!”


For more information go to:

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: http://www.petobesityprevention.org/

Banfield Pet Hospital: https://www.banfield.com/

American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org/

AVMA Video on Obesity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDe7yZ1z06Q&feature=youtu.be/


Bruce W. Little, DVM