By Lorie Huston, DVM
Obesity is a nationwide epidemic for our pets. In fact, according to several studies over 50% of American pets are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, being obese can shorten your pet’s life span.
Obese dogs and cats can be predisposed to a number of different health issues. These issues include diabetes (particularly for cats), joint disease, heart disease, liver disease, skin disease, respiratory disease, and heat stroke. Even some forms of cancer have been linked to obesity.
Fat, as a tissue, is actually now recognized as an endocrine organ, secreting substances that can actually be harmful to your pet. These substances may actually play a role in the development of many of the health issues listed above. In addition, some of these substances are responsible for regulating your pet’s pain response as well.
Keeping your pet at a lean body weight and avoiding obesity can add years to your dog or cat’s life. Lean dogs and cats tend to be much healthier and more comfortable than obese pets. For instance, staying lean can help prevent joint disease and the pain that accompanies arthritis and similar diseases. Lean cats are much less likely to develop diabetes than obese cats. The list goes on.
Avoiding obesity requires proper nutrition and exercise. As a pet owner, it can be very difficult to determine whether you are overfeeding your pet. For that reason (and many others), regular veterinary examinations are necessary and should include an evaluation of your pet’s body condition. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your pet has a weight issue and can help you decide on a proper diet and a safe quantity to feed your pet daily. There are even special weight management diets available for overweight dogs and cats.
If your pet does have an existing obesity problem, regulating his food intake will likely be necessary. However, it may not be safe to restrict your dog or cat’s intake too sharply. Doing so may mean that your pet does not get the nutrients he needs to remain healthy.
Exercise is also important in maintaining your pet’s weight or helping your pet to lose weight, if necessary. However, if your pet is not used to strenuous exercise, start slowly. For dogs, daily walks can be a great form of exercise. For cats, interactive toys are a good choice to encourage exercise. Both dogs and cats can be fed using food puzzles to stimulate exercise and mental stimulation at the same time. Scattering small quantities of your pet’s food in different locations in your home is another way to encourage your pet to exercise more.
Regular exercise will not only help burn excess calories for your pet but will also provide mental stimulation and keep joints and muscles flexible and healthy.
The outbreak of a disease inside of a group
A medical condition in which the joints become inflamed and causes a great deal of pain.