Canine and feline obesity is becoming as "large" a problem as the current epidemic with people. Studies have shown that more than 50% of our pets are overweight or obese. Most of us know that obesity can lead to an abundance of health issues and can also shorten our pet's life. In some cases, weight gain can be a sign of disease itself. So what can we do to end this and help our pets live healthier and happier lives?
The first step is acceptance:
I don't enjoy having to discuss obesity with owners. We love our pets and no one wants to be told that their child is fat. For this reason, many people take it very personally. The last thing we, as veterinarians, want to do is upset our clients. As a profession we pride ourselves on developing a good relationship with our clients. Some veterinarians will avoid the topic for this reason. So why would I tell you your dog is fat? Because I care. Because I want you to have as many years with your pet as possible and because I know the consequences of not taking action.
Next, we need to find out why we are overweight. Usually, the cause is as simple as too many calories in and not enough exercise. Sometimes however, the cause can be due to disease, such as Cushing's or hypothyroidism. For this reason I recommend starting with a complete exam with bloodwork, including thyroid testing.
Once we have determined the cause we can take action. In most cases your pet can get to a healthy weight just by paying attention to how much you feed, adding exercise and weighing them regularly. In many cases we grossly over-feed our pets. We think our pets will love us more if we give them tasty treats. In reality it is proven that pets respond much more favorably and bond better with owners who spend time with and praise them (like taking them for a walk).
Limit the number of treats your pet gets. Treats can be deceptively high in calories. These calories have to be accounted for when trying to restrict an overweight pet's intake. It does me no good to eat 3 balanced meals a day if I have a piece of cake after each meal. In cases where significant weight needs to be lost, I recommend removing treats altogether. If you still feel the need to reward your pet, green beans can be a good, low calorie alternative to commercially prepared treats.
Finally, if pets refuse to lose weight with reducing feeding amount alone, prescription diets for weight lose are available. While these diets can be costly, the added years and savings on treating disease is priceless. As mentioned before, excess weight can be linked to numerous diseases from diabetes to orthopedic disease.
Weight management is one of the most important aspects of animal health, yet we spend very little time addressing the issue. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to talk about and not well received but the pet's health and longevity depends on it. Because all dogs are different, weight alone may not always be the best indicator of obesity. For that reason I am attaching a Body Condition Score chart that can be referenced to help you along your pet's weight loss journey. Also feel free to stop in anytime and check your pet's progress on our scales. For more information on diets or for help with your pet's weight loss, visit us at Satilla Animal Hospital in Waycross, GA.