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Pet Obesity is a Serious Health Issue

Obesity is not only an epidemic among people, it is also a major medical issue for our four legged friends. Obesity is a preventable condition that is caused by the accumulation of excess fat in the body.

What causes a pet to become overweight or obese? The most common causes of obesity are over feeding, poor diet, and lack of exercise. There are medical conditions such as hypothyroidism in dogs that can cause them to become overweight and obese. This condition is easily treatable, and treatment can reduce the pet's weight. It is important for you to talk to your veterinarian about the type of food and amount of food that is right for your pet based on your pet’s age, breed, activity level and medical conditions.

How can I tell if my pet is overweight or obese?

The visible accumulation of excess fat is the most obvious symptom of obesity. Obesity can also cause other symptoms such as exercise intolerance, lethargy, breathing difficulties, and mobility problems. Your veterinarian can diagnose your pet as overweight or obese by using a Body Condition Score (BCS). A BCS is a standardized scale that uses a visual and hands on assessment of your pet's weight. Some veterinarians use a standardized scale of 1-5; others use a scale of 1-9. The chart below depicts a scale of 1-5.

1. A pet with a body score of 1 has ribs that are clearly visible even from a distance. There is no visible or palpable fat on the body.

2. A pet with a body score of 2 has ribs that are still visible and easily palpable and a noticeable waist, but also has a small amount of body fat.

3. A pet with a body score of 3 does not have visible ribs, but the ribs are easily palpated, because there is no layer of excess fat. The pet also has a visible waist. A BSC of 3 using a 1-5 scale is an ideal body condition for your pet.

4. A pet with a body score of 4 has a heavy layer of fat around the ribs making them more difficult to palpate. The waist will be less noticeable and there may be fat accumulated around the base of the tail.

5. A pet with a body score of 5 has a heavy layer of fat around the neck, limbs, body, and back bone. There is no waist, and the abdomen is descended due to internal fat.

Where do you think your pet falls on the scale below?

Does it really matter if my pet is overweight or obese? Absolutely. Obesity in pets can result in the same detrimental medical issues that plague people who are obese. Diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory distress, heart disease, and certain cancers are just a few conditions that can affect pets who are obese. These conditions can occur in pets that are not obese, but the risk dramatically increases with those who are. Therefore, many times these conditions are preventable. Obesity can directly affect your pet’s quality of life and can decrease your pet’s life span from five months up to 2.5 years! The chart below shows the correlation between obesity and life span in various breeds.

How is obesity prevented? It is important for you to talk to your veterinarian about the type of food and amount of food that is right for your pet based on your pet’s age, breed, activity level and medical conditions. Feeding the proper amount of a food that is adequate for your pet’s nutritional and caloric needs along with exercise is the best way to prevent your pet from becoming overweight or obese. Treats are a great way to train and bond with your pet. It is very easy to feed your pet treats without realizing how much those treats are contributing to the extra pounds. They also often lack vital nutrients. Treats should be calculated within your pet’s daily caloric needs and should not account for more than 10% of those calories. How is obesity treated? Obesity is much easier to prevent than it is to treat. Again, it is important to ask your veterinarian for a diet plan if your pet is diagnosed as overweight or obese. Your pet’s weight problem could be caused by over feeding an adequate food or you may need to change the type of food you are feeding. Don’t simply assume that if you cut back on the amount of food that your pet eats that she will safely lose weight. Reducing some foods may lead to weight loss, but it may also lead to a deficiency in certain nutrients that can lead to malnourishment and other health issues. This is why it is important to always consult your veterinarian on the type and amount of food you should feed your pet. Weight loss in pets also requires a lot of patience. Where as people who are dieting like to see a weight loss of 1-3 pounds per week, this rate of weight loss in some pets can be too fast and cause health issues particularly in cats. Hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease, can occur quickly in cats that are not receiving adequate calories and nutrients and can be life threatening. A half of a pound or less per month can be an adequate and healthy weight loss for some animals depending on size, age, and breed. Once your pet is on the weight loss plan created by your veterinarian, your veterinarian can advise you of any changes you may need to make during follow up visits.

Obesity is a serious issue with many of our pets. The good news is that it is easy to prevent and easy to treat with patience and guidance from your veterinarian.

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