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Obesity and Pets: A Problem of Epic Proportions

Recent studies show that over half of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. While this may seem like a superficial topic to focus on, serious health issues can arise from a pet being overweight.

Health Risks:
Perhaps the most apparent complication from a pet being overweight is the stress and strain this puts on their joints. Particularly as dogs get older and arthritis sets in, this can cause trouble with simple activities such as getting up or climbing the stairs.

Arthritis, however, is not the only disease that becomes more prevalent with weight issues. Increased rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease are all associated with excess weight in our pets.

Evaluating Proper Weight:
Since each pet has a unique body shape and size, using weight alone as an indicator of obesity can be misleading. Instead, veterinarians use either a five or nine point scale to measure your pet's Body Condition Score (BCS). An ideal score is a three on the five point scale, or a four to five on the nine point scale. Anything over those BCS scores is overweight and anything below those is underweight.

Key indicators to look at are the amount of fat over the ribs, the patient's waist and an abdominal tuck. A link to a chart with pictures and further descriptions can be found here:

http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/body-condition-scoring-chart
What we can do:
The easiest way to address obesity is to not let our pets get overweight in the first place. Regular exercise, high quality food and keeping treats to a minimum are all ways to keep our pets healthy throughout their lives.

If a pet becomes overweight or obese there are strategies that can be used to help your pet lose weight:

Feed Less
Decreasing the food that your pet receives each day is the number one way to achieve this goal. After your doctor determines your pet's ideal weight, they can calculate the amount of food your pet should receive to both lose weight as well as maintain a healthy weight. Most pets actually need 25% less food than recommended on the bag or can of food. The guide is generated by feeding intact animals, and most of our pets are spayed or neutered.

Resist the Puppy Face
Some pets will act hungry even when receiving an appropriate amount of food. Supplementing their food with green beans or other low calorie veggies, instead of high calorie treats, may help them feel full without adding too many calories. Even then, tough love may sometimes be necessary. Understanding that although your pet may act hungry (and assuming you are giving the right amount), not giving in is actually the best way to show you love them.

Regular walks
These walks do not have to be long! Sometimes pets are quite overweight and may only tolerate a walk to the corner and back before they get too tired or sore. This is okay! Regular walks will build up their endurance and as they lose weight the burden on their joints and heart will lessen. This will then result in a slow build-up to longer walks.

Obesity can be a difficult topic to discuss and treat in your pet, but it can be done! Please contact the veterinarians at Trickum Ridge Animal Hospital to work together towards helping your pet live the best life they can!

Rory Hekking, DVM
Hekking@TrickumRidge.com