OBESITY IN PETS: A GROWING PROBLEM
Being overweight is a huge and growing problem in our pet population. It comes with a multitude of health issues, and can have a strong negative effect on both quality and length of life (can potentially reduce life expectancy by more than 2 years). According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately 59% of dogs and cats are overweight.
These are just a few of the risks of obesity in pets:
- RESPIRATORY EFFECTS: airway compression, less ability to thermo-regulate, exercise intolerance
- CARDIOVASCULAR EFFECTS: increased heart rate, high blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, thickening of heart walls
- OTHER: increased risk of diabetes, exacerbation of arthritis (increased load on joints, increased inflammation), renal dysfunction
Weight loss programs for pets need to be individualized. Even a small weight loss can greatly affect your pet’s quality of life. As in people, weight loss in pets depends on a balance between calories taken in and calories used. Calories taken in need to be reduced (in a safe manner, with prevention of malnutrition at the same time), and activity levels need to be increased within the pet’s abilities. It can be a long, slow process, but a very rewarding one.
It is easy to overfeed your pet (especially with treats) by not realizing how much each food item really contains in calories, based on their size. There are several pet diets on the market formulated to help your pet manage their weight safely - please talk to your pet's primary veterinarian if you want to learn more about these.
Exercise tips for senior pets:
- Avoid exercising your pet during the hot times of day, as they are more sensitive to heat than younger animals.
- If your pet has mobility issues, go at a slow and gentle pace, and increase play and activity times gradually. You can utilize a special harness (such as Help Em Up) designed to help support your pet's hindquarters if needed.
- Make sure you walk or exercise your pet in areas where they have good traction – grass and sand are best. (Our arthritis blog has some tips for devices that help your pet gain traction!)
- Swimming is a great way to help your pet get exercise with low stress on their joints (never leave a pet around a pool unattended).
- Dogs and cats can both have their food or treats hidden around the house so that they exercise while they eat. Food puzzle toys are another option for making them eat slower and work a bit for their food!
The best place to start is a visit with your pet’s primary veterinarian to assess your pet’s body condition and come up with the best plan for feeding and exercise to safely help your pet lose weight.