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Obesity in pets

Obesity in pets

Obesity is becoming more and more common in our pets. Obesity is a disease, a devastating disease, which, unlike many other diseases, can be avoided. 

Obesity is caused by energy input (feeding) being more than their energy output (exercising, maintenance energy). “Kcal” is the main way we measure energy – more commonly known as calories.

If calories in are the same as calories out, the pet maintains the same weight. However, if calories in are greater than calories out, the pet will suffer and increase in weight.

Some factors, such as neutering, sex, exercise levels, concurrent disease and medications, may have an effect too, by altering the speed at which the body burns calories or absorbs them, but the basic rule is the same.

Obesity is caused by excessive fat throughout the body. It has a negative impact on our pets’ health and welfare. Being obese can stop pets from being able to move freely and enjoying their life the way they should.

What effect does obesity have on my pet’s body systems?

Obesity affects day-to-day life. Being obese increases the prevalence of many other diseases…

Musculoskeletal system

Being overweight means that your pet will be putting excessive pressure through each joint with every step they take. Obesity increases your pet’s risk of suffering from osteoarthritis. This condition can make laying in certain positions and even just walking around painful.

Cardiovascular system

Obesity affects your pet’s heart. The increased body size means the heart has to work much harder as it is trying to push the same volume of blood around the body, resulting in changes in heart function.

Endocrine system

Excessive fat and carbohydrate in the diet makes it more difficult to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. Feeding your pet a diet excessive in these nutrients means the pancreas has to work much harder and can cause pancreatitis. High carbohydrate and/or fat diets increase the likelihood of your pet suffering with diabetes mellitus.

Respiratory System

Excessive fat can cause respiratory distress, making very simple movements and even sleeping uncomfortable. Excessive fat puts extra pressure on the lungs, making it more difficult for the lungs to inflate and therefore harder to get the oxygen into the body.

How do I know if my pet is obese?

Deciding whether or not your pet is obese can be difficult unless they have an extreme level of obesity. So many pets suffer with obesity and it has altered the public’s perception of what a healthy pet should look like. Comparing photos of your pet now compared to 6 months or 1 year ago is a good way to check for any change in weight as it is often hard to see our own pets’ weight, as we see them daily and it is a gradual process.

Assessing your pet’s body condition score is an easy way to check if your pet is obese. Our vets can teach you how to assess your pet’s body condition. Different breeds are ideally different sizes. Once you have a score for your pet’s body condition, you can measure changes or maintenance in their body composition and size by alterations in the score. From the side, you should be able to see a tuck between the dog’s abdomen and the hind limbs. From above, you should see a waist and you should be able to feel each rib with your fingers. For cats, you should be able to see a waist with no belly fat sagging low beneath the cat.

Can you treat obesity and if so, how?

We are fortunately able to reverse obesity – eat less, move more!

Obesity is usually treated using a specialised, calorie-controlled diet. The diet should include micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) at the required concentrations, a specific amount of kcals and a controlled amount of carbohydrate, fat and protein. There are many suitable diets for pets, but each diet plan will be bespoke and created by the vet team especially for your pet.

You will also need to cut out any other food from their diet. The specific amount of calories needed by each pet will differ based on size, breed, age and lifestyle. To lose weight, your pet needs to be in a “calorie deficit” – so they need to be using up more calories than they are eating.

Increasing the amount of exercise your pet does is a brilliant way to increase the energy expenditure of your pet. You will also find that once your pet begins to lose weight, they actually enjoy exercising more and will naturally get up and move around more often. 

How can I prevent my pet from getting obese?

To prevent obesity, you should maintain a consistent amount of exercise alongside a consistent diet. Prevention is so much better than treatment, however, should we need to treat obesity, we can. Together, we can reverse obesity and reduce the risks of those diseases associated with obese pets.