Obesity for dogs and cats is a serious epidemic, much as it is in humans in our country. It has been scientifically proven to shorten dogs’ lives by up to two years, and is the leading cause of diabetes in cats. Dogs can also contract diabetes by being overweight, requiring insulin therapy possibly for the rest of their life. This becomes expensive and tedious and dangerous for dogs, cats and their owners, and could substantially shorten your pet’s lifespan.
Other ailments that can arise from obesity are debilitating osteoarthritis and worsening of heart problems that could cause clinical signs to develop much earlier than they normally would if your dog or cat was at an ideal weight.
Arthritis is a particularly insidious disease because once overweight, the joints sustain a much greater load than they normally should, causing more stress and more pain. Once painful, the dog or cat will become less active but usually eat the same amount, causing additional weight gain. This weight gain then causes the arthritis to become more painful, further restricting movement. Intervertebral disk disease is not caused by obesity, just like hip dysplasia, but rather genetic predispositions and the physical conformity of your pet’s anatomy. However, being overweight can cause an overloading of stress on the joints that are already at risk and can cause additional problems that could be avoided if your dog is at a healthy weight.
So how do you evaluate whether or not your dog or cat is at a healthy weight? After all, dogs and cats come in all shapes and sizes, and, just like people, there is no one weight that they can all attain to be healthy. So the first step is to take a trip to your veterinarian and ask about your pet’s weight. Your vet should be able to tell you if your animal is overweight, and roughly how much weight it should lose to start getting it in shape. Your vet can also test your dog for hypothyroidism or see if there are blood work results suggestive of Cushing’s disease, two diseases that can cause obesity in dogs.
The next step is to get your dog to eat healthy. Your vet can help you choose a low-calorie food that will allow you to feed a similar amount of food to your pet so that they feel satiated but with fewer calories. Treats should enter into the conversation because most dog and cat treats have LOTS of calories, just like treats for people. That’s why they are tasty. Also, people food should not be given to your dog or cat because human diets have a lot more carbohydrates than is healthy for a dog or cat. For dogs, you can feed calorie neutral treats such as carrots, frozen green beans, or even ice cubes.
Next up is exercise. Talk to your veterinarian, because strenuous exercise for a dog or cat with bad arthritis is not a good idea. If you have an older dog, swimming is a fabulous exercise because it is much less damaging to the joints. Also, walking up and down moderate hills at a normal pace is a good choice for those aging joints. If your dog is younger without joint problems, come out to the dog park in Roanoke at Highland Park and have a good run with all of the other dogs there. Your dog can get more exercise there in an hour than you can give them at home all day long. It’s a great place to be with very friendly people – just make sure you have your dog license and all shots are updated, and keep them up to date on heartworm prevention and flea and tick control.
For cats, diet restriction with a calorie-restricted food and moderate exercise are key. Get your cat a climbing tower and put it in front of the window. I guarantee it will get a lot of use. Buy a laser pointer and play chase, or get a kitty fishing rod with a feather attached and play for 30 minutes or more at least once a day. Be interactive, and you and your cat will both enjoy the rewards.
Purina has a great chart for determining your dog’s body condition score here.