Last month we visited all the troubles that can plague our older animals. This month we will talk about obesity. Obesity is one of the most common problems I see with all pets. In fact, the latest statistics say that about 40% of pets in America are obese. It can cause worsening and early progression of arthritis, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver disease, reduced life span, unwillingness to accept therapeutic diets, increase in surgical and anesthetic risk, and decreased quality of life.
Obesity can also be one of the hardest conditions to talk with owners about. The subject of obesity in people is complicated and charged with emotions – but in pets it shouldn’t be. Pets cannot feed themselves and they cannot overeat unless you overfeed them. Owners tend to be in denial about how much they are feeding their pets and how little they are providing exercise. Once we have gotten over the hurdle of acknowledging that there is a problem, we can talk about how to fix it.
First of all, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. They should have record of your pet’s weight over the years and can track how much weight gain has occurred. Your vet will assess their body score to see how overweight they are. To get a rough estimate at home if your pet is overweight, you can look at them from overhead and from the side. If you cannot see a tuck in from the rib cage and cannot see a hint of ribs underneath a little padding- your pet is fat. Next, your veterinarian will do basic diagnostic tests to rule out any underlying health problems like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, and to make sure a weight loss plan is appropriate.
If your veterinarian decides that a weight loss program is the way to go they will probably prescribe a weight loss diet based on their current weight and how much they need to lose over a given amount of time. Losing weight too fast can cause other health problems or rebound weight gain so make sure you feed them the recommended amount prescribed. Many of the prescription weight loss diets increase fiber while still meeting their nutritional needs.
Increasing their activity level will help burn more calories and keep them from developing anxiety or OCD type conditions that can lead to overeating. There are a plethora of toys out there that are interactive for pets and their owners, or toys that they can play with by themselves while you are away at work. Get out of the habit of expressing love for your pet by constantly offering treats. You can give them alternates like baby carrots for treats or learn to use playtime as a treat instead of food.
There is a weight loss drug available for dogs by prescription. If all the above ways of weight loss are not working your veterinarian may decide to try Slentrol. This is usually only used as a last resort and does have side effects that you would need to discuss with your veterinarian.
Above all, don’t ignore the problem. Whatever regimen you and your veterinarian decide on, be determined to stick to it. Keeping your pets weight down will increase their life span and increase their quality of life. This also comes with the added bonus of saving money on veterinary care by not having to treat diseases associated with obesity!
M. H. Archer, DVM