This weekend I was driving on the Indiana Toll Road to Michigan and saw a large billboard with the following message: “Obesity is a disease. Obesity is not a decision.” And I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could get all my medical information off billboards with catchy sayings. Unfortunately, life is not that simple. Advertisers are not always accurate in their presentation of medical information on billboards especially here when it comes to obesity in our pets.
Obesity in our pets is a disease but it IS OUR decision. We choose when to feed our pets and, for the most part, when to exercise our pets. It is our responsibility to know how many calories to feed our pets each day and the amount of exercise to give them each day. (To help determine your pet’s caloric needs visit my website and click on client forms for your pet’s caloric requirements). These two factors, calories and exercise, alone contribute overwhelming to defining your pet’s body condition.
Yes, there are a few medical situations that may contribute to a pet becoming obese. The most common disease in dogs that causes excessive weight gain is Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid dogs are unable to produce or maintain normal levels of a hormone called thyroxine. Thyroxine is essential in maintaining a normal metabolic rate, healthy immune system and hair coat. In pets with hypothyroidism their metabolic rate is so slow that feeding them a normal quantity of food may lead to excessive weight gain. It is not uncommon in my practice to see a pet with untreated hypothyroidism to gain 10 percent of its body weight in a period of four-to-six months without increasing their daily caloric intake. In addition to weight gain, hypothyroid pets usually have additional problems like poor hair growth, chronic skin and ear infections, depression and sluggish behavior. Fortunately, there is a blood test to diagnosis and medication to control this disease. Within four-to-six weeks, most patients on thyroid supplementation will lose weight, positive re-growth of hair, and return to their normal level of activity.
Another potential disease that contributes to a client’s perception of weight gain in pets would be Hyperadrenocorticism (also referred to as Cushing’s Disease). Hyperadrenocorticism usually occurs in older dogs and it is due to an overactive adrenal gland. This overactive adrenal gland produces excessive amounts of a hormone, called cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels in the bloodstream cause an unusual distribution of fat in the body creating the appearance of a pendulous (pot belly) abdomen. In addition to this outward physical change, pets with Cushing’s disease typically drink lots of water, have increased urine output, may pant excessively, have poor hair growth, and have frequent skin and ear infections. This disease can be diagnosed with a series of blood tests. Most pet’s with Cushing’s Disease can be medically managed but not cured.
Another reason for weight gain in dogs and cats is due to orthopedic pain. Pets in pain do not want to exercise. They frequently lay around the house and this inactivity contributes to weight gain. So if you see your pet having difficulties rising, reluctant to go up and down stairs, difficulties jumping onto furniture, decreased exercise tolerance – take your pet to the veterinarian. A good physical examination and radiographs will identify your pet’s orthopedic problem(s). After establishing a diagnosis, your next goal would be to try to minimize your pet’s pain and return to normal activity as soon as possible. Your treatment plan may include surgery, physical therapy or simply restricted activity, pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. Just like in people, exercise leads to weight loss and good body condition.
But for most of our pets, weight gain is due to excessive consumption of food — simply too many calories! Please don’t feed your dog food every time you go to the refrigerator. Did you know feeding a 20 lb dog one ounce of cheese is the caloric equivalent to you eating two and a half hamburgers? Did you know that feeding a 10-lb cat two potato chips is the caloric equivalent of you eating one hamburger? Watch your child’s high chair activity — they drop a tremendous amount of food. For every child born into a pet household, I anticipate at least a 5-to-10 percent weight gain for the dog during that child’s first two years of life. If you’re trying to cut down your caloric intake by not eating your pizza’s crust, don’t give it to the dog. If you want to encourage a positive bond with your pet, get off the couch and take your dog for a walk or play laser tag with your cat. It’s good for both of you! If you want to reward your pet for good behavior, don’t just give treats. Throw a ball or give him or her a hug!
For cats, please don’t feed them every time they cry for food. Don’t leave out high calorie dry food for them to graze on throughout the day. Put their dry food in a “food dispensing ball” and let them play with it to get their food and exercise. Hide their food around the house for them to search and find it. Cats fed high carbohydrate diets will eat more food than cats fed high protein rich diets. So feed your cat a diet that is greater than 50 percent protein and less than 10 percent carbohydrates on a dry matter basis to encourage a svelte figure.
Remember obesity is a disease, but it is our decision whether we want to maintain or cure it. Everyone knows that obesity is unhealthy and will shorten the quality of your pet’s life but not everyone knows how to feed and exercise his or her pet properly. Go right now to my website and find out how many calories you need to feed your pet today to maintain a good body condition. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian what your pet’s ideal weight should be, the name of a good weight reducing diet and an appropriate exercise routine. Don’t encourage or contribute to your pet’s obesity. Be a smart pet owner — make the right decision to exercise and feed your pet appropriately!