Chubby pets are often considered adorable, but the implications of their extra weight are not as sweet. With our furry loved ones, even just a few extra pounds of weight gain can have serious health implications. Excess weight can increase the risk of developing preventable diseases and health conditions. Liver disease, arthritis and diabetes are just a few examples of the diseases your pet is at risk for when they are overweight.
How Does Excess Weight Affect My Pet?
Stress on Joints
Similar to humans, your pet's musculoskeletal structure is designed to function optimally at a certain weight. Even just a few excess pounds can be debilitating to their joints, and create pain and discomfort for your pet. The primary medical condition associated with obesity in canines is osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease). Additionally, canines who are overweight are more likely to have cruciate Ligament ruptures, which are quite painful, and costly to fix. In recent years, the prevalence of arthritis is increasing at an alarming rate in our feline friends as well, due to excess weight. There is no cure for arthritis unfortunately. Arthritis is managed through minimizing the pain your pet experiences from the condition.
High Blood Sugar & Diabetes
If your pet is eating an inappropriate diet or portion of food, paired with insufficient exercise, they will likely develop issues with regulating their blood sugar levels. Often times this is because your pet's pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin (the hormone that regulates glucose in the bloodstream) or your pet's body is not able to use the insulin effectively. When their blood sugar levels increase, this can lead to Type II diabetes. Like arthritis, there is no cure for diabetes particularly in dogs, and managing diabetes in your pet is expensive and demanding. Managing diabetes often requires daily, routine insulin injections, strict dietary restrictions and frequent visits to your veterinarian to monitor the progress of the condition. Ineffective management of diabetes can have serious, and even fatal, consequences.
A recent study found that the prevalence of diabetes has increased 90% in both cats and dogs between 2011 and 2016. Furthermore, this study notes that obesity was one of the leading preconditions for diabetes.
High Blood Pressure
Often times obese pets will develop high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension has been deemed the "silent killer" because often times high blood pressure may not be identified as a health condition your pet is experiencing before it is too late. High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, heart and vascular disease.
If your pet has recently put on excess weight, it might be a good idea to ask your veterinarian about conducting a blood pressure test. If identified earlier on, interventions can still take place to reduce the impact hypertension may have on your pet. This includes increasing exercise, changing to a low-sodium diet, implementing a weight loss plan and in more critical cases, putting your pet on medication.
Respiratory & Vascular Problems
Excess weight can impose stress on your pet's heart and lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe and have proper circulation. Obese pets are more likely to develop tracheal collapse particularly small and toy breeds, which can lead to several other health conditions including heart disease, chronic kidney insufficiency and enlarged liver. Furthermore, pets who have brachycephalic skull structures (Pugs, Shih Tzus, Mastiffs, Persians, Himalayans, Burmese, etc.) may be at particular risk for respiratory issues related to obesity. This can increase their likelihood of developing Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) which is a debilitating respiratory condition. Proper respiratory function and circulation are critical to your pet's overall healthy function and decreasing their likelihood for a multitude of serious health conditions. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is one of the best approaches to maintaining proper respiratory and circulatory function.
There are various other health hazards your pet is at risk for if they are overweight. Your pet's immune function can be compromised, leading to other various health problems. Cats who are overweight are more likely to have bladder and urinary tract disease, and also kidney disease. Often times dog who are overweight may develop intervertebral disc disease, which may require expensive surgical procedures to fix. Overweight animals are also more likely to have dermatitis, and increased anesthesia risk. Overall, the life expectancy of your pet decreases significantly if they are overweight. The health risks associated with obesity in pets are immense and severe.
How Can I Tell if My Pet is Overweight?
This is an important conversation to have with your veterinarian, as often times it may be difficult to assess on your own if your pet is at a healthy weight or not due to factors such as breed, age and their coat type. This is one of the reasons routine, annual visits to your veterinarian are important, so they your pet's weight can be accurately monitored. You should also try to weight your pet routinely, if possible. You can try placing your pet on a scale you have at home, or alternatively, weigh yourself first, and then while holding your animal, weigh yourself again and derive your pet's weight from the difference. If your pet is too large or unmanageable to be weighed on a scale you have in your home, you can always bring your pet into your veterinarian clinic to be weighed on their scales designed for animals.
Another way to monitor if your pet is at a healthy weight is to run your hands along the sides of your pet's chest. You should be able to feel their ribs easily. If you cannot feel their ribs, this is a sign that most likely your pet is overweight. Note that depending on your pet's coat (if it is thick or long) it may be more difficult to feel their ribcage. This is a very rudimentary test of your pet's weight, and consultation with your veterinarian should be done in addition to this.
How Can I Get My Pet to Lose Weight?
Unfortunately pet weight loss can be quite challenging, and can take quite some time, this is why it is important to try and maintain a healthy weight. Consistency and dedication are required to see weight loss in your pet. Here are some tips:
· Portion Control and Calorie Counting: Similar to humans, one of the best places to start with creating a weight loss plan is to set and follow a strict calorie limit diet. Your veterinarian can calculate the right calorie intake for your pet, and then the amount of food to be given to adhere to this calorie limit.
· Prescription or Specialized Diets: There are several dietary options suited to weight loss plans that are not just low calorie or low fat, but contain a specialized nutrient blend that can create a feeling of fullness for your pet. Ask your veterinarian which diet is right for your pet on their weight loss journey.
· Reduce or Eliminate Treats & Snacks: Treats can be an important part of training and your established reward system for your pet, however, treats should be given only when necessary and should be a healthy options for your pet. Ask your veterinarian which treats are best.
· Make Them Work for Their Food: Treats and meals should be a reward for your pet, so when possible try to schedule your walks and playtime prior to meals. Additionally, there are toys or slow feeders that enforce your pet to put in a little effort for their food. This can be an engaging and stimulating activity for them, while also preventing them from eating their food too quickly, which can help promote better digestion.
· Exercise: Of course as we all know, exercise is an important component of weight loss. Depending on your pet's current condition, extensive or high intensity exercise may be too strenuous. Try to gradually increase the length of playtime or your daily walks, to help increase their stamina and promote weight loss.
Maintaining a healthy weight, or managing obesity can be a difficult task, and each furry friend may present unique challenges to this task. But it is important to remember how critical a healthy weight is to your pet's overall health.
Here at Brooker Ridge Animal Hospital in Newmarket, we are happy to help you find the best way to achieve your pet's optimal weight. If you have any questions or would like to discuss a weight loss plan, please give us a call.
Looking for a veterinary clinic in Newmarket? Give us a call at 905-898-1010 and we'd be happy to see you and your furry friend!