Obesity in pets

Obesity is a disease that has been defined as an excessive accumulation of fat in the body to such an extent that it may have an adverse effect on the health of your pet. Obesity generally arises when an animal’s calorie intake exceeds energy utilisation.

Risk factors that may influence obesity have been identified and are summarised below. 

  • Endocrine disease:  

            a) Hypothyroidism.

            b) Hyperadrenocorticism.

  • Lifestyle factors:     

            a) Indoor lifestyle.

            b) Inactivity.

  • Breed:                     

            a) Cats - Domestic Shorthair 

            b) Dogs - Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

  • Signalment factors:

            a) Age – Middle aged dogs and cats.

            b) Sex – Female dogs, Male cats.

            c) Neuter status – Neutered dogs and cats.

  • Iatrogenic: 

           a) Glucorticiod therapy.

           b) Anticonvulsants.

  • Owner factors:

           a) Older owner.

           b) Human obesity.

           c) Female gender.

           d) Lower income

           e) Close owner-pet relationships

  • Behavioural factors:

           a) Over humanisation.

           b) Feeding behaviour

           c) Owner shows less interest in preventative healthcare for the pet

           d) Cat is anxious or depressed.

           e) Owner misinterprets the cats feeding behaviour.

            f) Cats are a substitute for human companionship.

           g) Owner has less time to play with the cat and misinterprets the cat’s feeding behaviour.

·        Dietary factors        

           a) Cats – Feeding premium brand foods, Feeding food ad libitum, Feeding fresh meat or scraps.

           b) Dogs – Feeding table scraps, feeding own-brand foods (compared to premium brand foods), number  

               of meals and snacks daily, dog present when the owners prepare or consume their own food.

Obese pets appear to be pre-disposed to a number of medical/orthopaedic problems.

For example: 

  • Orthropedic – lameness, cruciate ligament disease, osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia.
  • Endocrine – diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism.
  • Cardiorespiratory – tracheal collapse, hypertension, affects cardiac function.
  • Oncological – increased risk of neoplasia in some studies.
  • Alimentary – pancreatitis, hepatitic steatosis, cirrhosis.
  • Urogential – urinary tract infections, urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence, dystocia, transitional cell carcinoma.

 Obesity Management

Please Note:  seek veterinary advice before initiating into an obesity management programme.

At present the most common approach to managing obesity is dietary therapy in conjunction with an exercise programme.

Dietary management programme: 

  • Use diets that are specifically formulated for feeding during weight loss.
  • The level of energy allocated must be set correctly. Energy allocation will vary according to the diet, individual and activity levels. Energy calculations must be based on target bodyweight and not on current bodyweight.
  • Weigh daily rations on electronic scales as other methods are unreliable.
  • Do not give additional food.
  • If healthy treats are offered then this must be taken into consideration when calculating the daily overall energy allocation. Treats should account for less than 5% of the total daily requirements. 

Exercise programme:

  • Promotes fat loss and may assist in maintain lean tissue during weight loss.
  • Each programme must be tailored to the individual and must account for any medical problems.
  • Canine physical activity can encompass one or all of the following: Lead/Off-lead exercise, Swimming, hydrotherapy and treadmill exercise.
  • Feline physical activity can be increased with the use of toys.
  • Play games whereby pets are made to search for their food and the use of feeding toys.
  • Additional benefits include to exercise include improved welfare, mental stimulation, quality of life, mobility, cardiovascular benefits e.t.c.

 Weight monitoring:

  • Labour intensive.
  • Close monitoring is essential for successful obesity management. Start every 2 weeks but this period can be extended depending on the weight loss achieved.
  • Always use the same set of scales.
  • It is essential to monitor bodyweight even after the ideal weight has been achieved to ensure that weight loss is maintained. 

Ideally prevention is better than cure, so ensure that your pet does not become obese. If you have any questions please contact your local veterinary practice.

(Dr Angus Campbell, June 2011)

( Source: Obesity in Companion Animals, Feb 2010, Vol 32, pages 42-50)

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