I was reading some of the recent articles on how diabetics who underwent radical surgery to lose weight went into remission (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=86575) and got to thinking about how many of our pets are overweight. It’s a difficult subject to broach as a veterinarian seeing as how so many of our clients are overweight as well (http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-10-03-weight-trends_x.htm). However, the dangers of obesity are clear: higher blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and a shorter life span (http://www.50millionpounds.com/the_challenge/dangers_of_obesity/default.aspx). The same is true for pets. In a paper in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (June 1, 1998:1725) the authors showed that overweight cats had twice the risk of developing skin disease, four times the risk of diabetes, and five times the risk of developing a lameness requiring veterinary attention. All of this just from being overweight. The worst offenders are usually the owners who care the most. They want their pet to be happy and when is your dog happier than when he is munching on a potato chip, or sharing your ice cream?
There is hope. It’s a three step program.
Step One: Take your pet to the veterinarian. Many dogs that are overweight actually have medical conditions. Thyroid Disease and Cushing’s disease can make a dog overweight. Treating the disease can return your dog to his proper weight. Dogs and cats with arthritis may be reluctant to exercise and this may be the sole cause of your pet’s overweight condition. Since we will be changing your pet’s diet you will want to make sure their liver and kidneys are functioning normally.
Step Two: Change his diet. We start with removing all the treats and snacks. Most of the treats we give to our pets are empty calories, nothing more than us eating Marshmallow Fluff. For cats I usually recommend a light or less active diet. Since cats have so many specific requirements, it’s difficult to manipulate their diet too much. Also, most cat owners rarely use treats and snacks, so just changing the diet is enough. For dogs, I generally recommend a “senior” diet. Most senior diets contain joint supplements ( such as glucosamine chondroitin) and extra antioxidants in addition to being lower calorie. These are extras that can help even middle aged dog feel better and lose weight.
Step Three: Exercise. For cats this may be a little tricky. Some cats don’t like to play. Some cats just don’t like people. However, they make many toys, which are available at any pet store, to entice cats to move. We had a blast last week with the pet store cat and a new laser pointer. Just be inventive. Dogs are a bit easier. Just 30 minutes of walking three times a week is all it takes. It’s not the speed of the walk, it’s the time. Studies in humans have shown that the number of calories burned is directly proportional to the time spent exercising, not the intensity. You can also buy the dog a toy (my favorite is the Kong toy, http://www.kongcompany.com/ ). My dogs spend hours playing with their toys.
It’s clear that dogs that eat less, live longer (JAVMA May 1, 2002:1315). If you really want your pet to be around longer, you need to watch their weight too.