The Obesity Epidemic

by Dr. Fincher / Wednesday, 16 May 2012 / Published in Pet Health
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Even though we know that owners hate hearing it and we always feel a little bad saying it, one of the most common phrases I utter as a veterinarian is as follows; “Fluffy/Scruffy/Bobo is a bit overweight.”  We try to spare your feelings as best we can, but when it comes down to it, our primary concern is your pet’s health and it is simply the fact that to be obese, any level of obese, is unhealthy for the day to day life and can significantly shorten the lifespan of your beloved family member.  There are many consequences that result from hauling around those extra pounds.  For our feline friends, diabetes is one of the top contenders.  Additionally, when a fat cat gets sick (from diabetes or some other reason) and stops eating, their bodies aren’t very good at mobilizing fat to keep them going and tends to deposit large amounts in their liver, resulting in a deadly secondary disease called hepatic lipidosis.  In our canine counterparts, obesity can severely exacerbate any arthritis or joint disease they may already have.  This is also described in cats and is, in fact, even harder to manage than in dogs.  Also in overweight dogs, we see increased incidence of  diabetes, reduced heat tolerance, difficulty breathing, heart disease and the list goes on and on.  So how do we approach this current epidemic in animal health?

To evaluate an animal’s health based solely on the numbers, namely weight, is a mistake. The best way to determine whether weight loss is necessary is to evaluate the animal as a whole by what we call “Body Condition Score” (BCS).  We use a nine point scale that is pretty simple to summarize.  Score 1/9 is emaciated; the animals bones are clearly visible.  Score 5/9 is ideal; we can see a slight tuck in the waist from the top and side and can easily feel (but not necessarily see) the ribs.  Any score higher than a 6/9 is considered overweight with 9/9 being “grossly obese”.  According to studies, dogs with an ideal BCS of 4 to 5 lived 15% longer than a dog of the same breed, in the same environment and eating the same diet but having a BCS or 6 or 7 (Ettinger Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6th Edition).  As a pet owner, I feel that this statistic says it all!  That’s 1.5 years for a ten year old dog (and lets face it, we see more and more dogs 12 and over)!  I want my furry family members with me, in good health, for as long as possible and it seems that being a healthy weight is the first step in achieving that goal!

There are many options available for weight loss, and we like to tailor the program to each individual animals needs.  On the surface, it seems simple, cut calories and increase expenditure (exercise!) but we all know that’s easier said than done.  If you suspect that your pet might exceed the ideal 5/9 score, please set up a consultation with your friendly veterinarian to get advice on how to help your pet live the best life they can.  Please exercise caution when just cutting their regular food.  In the short term that is a fine option, however, in the longer term, cutting their normal maintenance food by 25% runs the risk of nutritional deficiency (vitamins, minerals) in addition to the calorie deficiency we are aiming for.  Good luck!

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