When we adopt pets, it is likely they will take on our bad habits. Obesity, for example, is the most common nutrition related disease in dogs and cats. However, being overweight is not part of the nutritional cycle of animals in the wild. It is the result of our propensity to consume more calories than we need. Studies indicate that between 24 and 44 percent of dogs and at least 12 percent of cats are overweight.
More weight means less health
Carrying too much weight puts dogs and cats in an increased risk of certain health problems that affect and diminish their quality of life. Obesity can cause or worsen the following conditions:
Locomotion or joint problems. Additional weight creates greater pressure on the joints, bones, ligaments and muscles. Ailments such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, disorders of the discs and torn ligaments can be aggravated by obesity.
Heart and lung diseases. Obese animals have a higher mass of tissues than animals of healthy weight, and so their hearts and lungs must work harder to provide good circulation and sufficient oxygen. Likewise, extra fat in the thoracic cavity and around heart muscles reduces the efficiency of the heart and lungs.
Liver diseases. Liver function often declines when the liver gets too much fat. Obese cats sometimes stop eating because of a potentially fatal illness called hepatic lipidosis.
Diabetes. Just as in humans, diabetes is much more common in obese dogs and cats. Weight reduction increases the effectiveness of curative treatments.
Heat intolerance. The insulating properties of the excess of fat expose animals to dangerous heat levels.
Skin problems. Skin rolls created by fatty deposits often cause friction and chronic skin infections. Obese cats cannot reach parts of their bodies that need preening.
Gastrointestinal disorders. Due to reduced functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, it is more likely that obese animals suffer from constipation and flatulence. Pancreatitis, a disease that causes severe abdominal pain and vomiting, is much more common in obese dogs.
Learn to detect the symptoms
Often, owners do not realize their pets are obese until health problems are detected. Therefore, it is vital to recognize the first signs of overweight before they become obese and require drastic lifestyle changes, which will be harder for the animal and for you. Since there is not an ideal weight standard for animals, the best way to assess the condition of your pet is to examine your pet, if possible, once a week. A thick coat can easily hide a bulging belly, so you should learn how to feel the ribcage under the coat. Both in dogs and cats, you should distinguish by touch each rib. If you can´t fell the ribs at all, the animal is dangerously obese. Your veterinarian can teach you to examine them if needed.
But before you change your pet´s routine, ask your veterinarian to do a thorough examination. Not only will he be able to detect any disease that could be affected by his weight reduction program, but he will also help you establish an effective and safe treatment for the animal. It is imperative that you and your family understand that it is necessary to respect the weight reduction program for your pet. Working with your veterinarian, set a specific goal and calculate the time needed to achieve it.
Begin the weight reduction program
Any weight loss program should include both a reduction of calories consumed and an increase of calories burned. Here are some ways to do it:
• Eliminate or reduce the number of table scraps and treats you give your pet.
• Buy low calorie treats. If that fails, start reducing the amount of food you give him.
• Do not leave food available for your pet to eat whenever he wants. Set meal times during which the food will be available, and then remove the plate.
• Keep your pet out of the room where you prepare and eat your meals. This way, he won’t inspire pity and get an extra snack.
• If these measures are not enough, change his food for a low calorie diet. With fewer calories and more fiber than regular foods, you can continue giving him generous portions.
• Proper exercise is as valuable as a good diet. For an overweight dog, this could mean an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking each day. For a cat, spend a few minutes with a toy that gets him moving.
• When weather prevents your dog from going out to exercise, try throwing a toy to get him running up and down stairs. Some cats also enjoy this kind of games. ■