Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Weighty Topic

The topic of today's discourse is the most important of health problems, OBESITY!  I'm not just talking about the 10 or 20% of the animals I examine, but approximately 50% or dogs and 70% of cats!!!  In the following lines, I will discuss why you should be concerned if Felix or Fido is carrying around a few extra pounds and what steps you can take to turn this situation around.

Many things contribute to obesity, but the most common of these is TOO MUCH FOOD.  A fourteen pound poodle does not require a 2000 calorie-a-day diet.  Treats and people food run up the calorie count in a hurry.  (Just because it's called a doggy bag, doesn't mean the contents must go to the doggy.)  Now, I'm not suggesting that you should not reward or treat your pet, but do so in moderation.  A philosophy I try to instill in my own pets is that a treat is not special because  a juicy bit of steak is in the offering, but because the treat comes directly from my hand and is not just in the food bowl.  In fact, my hound dog's treats are simply pieces of his own kibble, and he's always thrilled to receive them.

Now let's take a serious look at the number of calories required to get your pet through a typical day.  The day starts with a journey into the great outdoors first thing in the a.m. to do his or her "duty", followed by a trek to the food bowl, then that ever demanding nap, then perhaps a turn around the block or a few laps in the back yard to fetch the ball, followed by a nap, then another meal, more bathroom duties, followed by bedtime.  Not a terribly demanding schedule.  I realize not all pets are this sedentary, but very few are out herding livestock or hunting for a living either.  The most demanding activity in most cats' lives is following the sun beam around the house for an ever more cozy nap.

Not all pets are overweight due to overeating; there may be a disease process at work in middle aged and older pets that result in easier weight gain.  For instance, a common disorder among dogs in hypothyroidism.  Since the thyroid hormone in effect regulates the body's metabolic rate, dysfunction of the gland usually results in increased body weight.  As pets age, they often become arthritic in one or more joints.  This leads to a reluctance to exercise. 

So what if your pet is a bit chunky?  After all, he's not training for the  Olympics or a beauty pageant, right?  Well we all know that obesity is not a healthy situation for people, and the same is true for our four-legged friends.  Obesity contributes to and exacerbates arthritis: common sense dictates that a weak or degenerated joint is only going to suffer further from supporting excessive weight.  Conditions affecting the heart, lungs and trachea can be caused or seriously complicated by obesity.  Excessive body weight may contribute to certain hormonal abnormalities such as diabetes, and it certainly makes their management more difficult.  Most alarming is the fact that obese pets live 20-30% shorter lives than thin pets.  Due to decreased activity and increased incidence of disease, they also live less satisfying lives.  Sure, they love to eat and get treats and rewards, but do them and yourself a favor:  don't kill them with kindness.

If you feel your pet may be overweight, consult your veterinarian.  A thorough examination should be conducted prior to starting a weight reduction program.  A disorder may be uncovered that should be managed prior to weight loss.  Your pet's doctor will also be able to help you plan an effective strategy based on your animal's specific situation.  This strategy will undoubtedly include a regular meal schedule (I recommend two a day), measured meals, periodic weigh ins, and in many instances, retraining yourself and your pet to a healthy system of treats and rewards.  In the end, the mechanics of any weight reduction program revolve around decreased caloric intake and increased caloric use.  There are two ways to decrease caloric intake: less of what your pet already eats or a similar volume of food with less calories.  I think we all know how to increase caloric usage.  Yes, exercise.  Who knows?  Whipping Rover into shape may also get you into shape as well.

~~Brian Ray, DVM

1 comment:

J said...

Hello there! I'm Julie, one of the CVT's at Belle City and I just wanted to say that any of us here at BCVH would be more than happy to help you and your pet get started on a Weight Management Program! Stop in with your pet for a quick weigh-in and for your FREE Weight Management Kit. We'll discuss proper nutrition and diet, calculate specific calorie requirements for your pet, go over ideas for exercise (especially with the winter months fast approaching!) that will suit YOUR lifestyle and then pair your pet with their own "personal trainer" who can help you both on the road to a longer, healthier lifestyle! I really hope to see you soon... until then!