National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is October 7

According to a 2013 study by the Banfield Hospital Group, 37 percent more dogs and 90 percent more cats are considered clinically obese today as compared to pets of 5 years ago. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that, as of 2014, an estimated 52.7 percent of dogs (57.7 million animals) and 57.9 percent of cats (81.2 million animals) in the US are measured as being either overweight or obese.

So, it appears, that as American humans are becoming clinically heavier and more obese, so are our pets.

Just like overweight pet parents, fat pets are more inclined to have a decreased life expectancy, develop osteoarthritis as they age and are at a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart and respiratory issues, and some cancers than are normal-weight pets.

What does it mean to be ‘clinically obese?’

“Obesity” is defined as an accumulation of excessive amounts of adipose tissue (fatty tissue) in the body. Most local veterinarians determine the obesity levels of their clients by using body conditioning scoring. This is a subjective method of evaluating body composition that assesses subcutaneous (just under the skin) fat, abdominal fat, and superficial musculature (the ribcage, the area around the lower spine and the waist).

The scoring runs from 1 to 9; a score of “1” shows the animal is severely emaciated with visible ribs, no palpable fat or muscle mass, and protruding spine and hip bones. A score of “9” means the pet has a heavy fat cover, ribs cannot be felt, the waist and abdomen are distended, and there are extensive fat deposits over the abdomen and lower back. An ideal “5” conditioning score shows the animal is well proportioned with only a slight fat covering over the ribs, an observable waist, and minimal abdominal fat.

**Note: See our February blog “Focus on Cat Health Month – Cat Obesity” for a look at the body conditioning system used for cats and some tips on how to help your kitty lose weight.

What causes obesity in pets?

A 2006 study in the Journal of Nutrition gave 5 basic reasons our pets run the risk of gaining weight and becoming obese.

1. Disease – Some diseases, including hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocortism (Cushing’s disease) can cause obesity in dogs. Additionally, medications such as glucocorticoids (steroids) and some anticonvulsant drugs can cause pets to overeat, thus leading to weight gain.

2. Genetics – Some dog breeds (Labrador retrievers, Cairn terriers, cocker spaniels, Scottish terriers) and cat breeds (domestic shorthairs, Persians) are genetically predisposed to weight gain and obesity.

3. Neutering/Spaying – Veterinarians report that neutering is an important risk factor for obesity in both species; however, university studies suggest that this is due to a decrease in the pet’s metabolic rate. Alternative explanations imply that increased food intake coupled with decreased activity, indoor lifestyles, and middle age can contribute to weight gain in neutered animals.

4. Dietary Factors – Obesity in dogs is associated with the number of meals and snacks fed, the feeding of table scraps, and the presence of the dog in the kitchen and under the dinner table while pet parents prepared or ate their own meal. While the type of diet fed does not appear to be a factor in weight gain, studies show that obese dogs are more likely to be fed inexpensive rather than more expensive foods. In cats, obesity is most often caused by allowing the pet to have free choice of food intake instead of regular meal times and amounts.

5. Behavioral Factors — Stress, anxiety, depression, a failure to establish a normal feeding pattern and a lack of interaction with pet parents can let a cat to overeat causing weight gain. Cat owners often mistake a cat’s need for human attention and affection as a request for food, and so will feed the pet kitty when all she wants is a warm lap. For overweight dogs, owners are more likely to observe the dog eating for longer duration than normal weight dogs, pet parents typically show little interest in pet nutrition, the owners are often themselves obese, and they might lack a certain level of health consciousness for both themselves and their pets.

So how do we determine if our pets are obese and what can we do to help them lose those unnecessary pounds?

The website for the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded by veterinarians, includes such helpful tools as a Pet Weight Translator that automatically compares your pet’s weight to that of a similar human and shows levels of obesity, a listing of common foods and their caloric values, a download of pet weights and possible treats, a daily feeding and activity log you can print out and fill in, and advice on exercise and weight loss for both dogs and cats.

Some quick guidelines from APOP’s expert vets include:

Pet Caloric Needs – A 10 lb. cat normally requires only 180 to 200 calories of food per day. A dog of the same size needs 200 to 275 calories, a 20 lb. dog requires 325 to 400 calories, and dogs 50 lbs. and over need 700 to 900 calories daily. This compares to the normal intake for active humans (males: 2500 calories, females: 2000 calories).

** Please note: The suggested guidelines are the average for lightly active adult spayed or neutered animals, 1 to 7 years of age, who receive less than 30 minutes of activity daily. Pregnant, malnourished, or injured animals (and puppies/kittens) require more calories than other animals. If you are attempting to reduce your pet’s weight and improve fitness, your pet is likely to need fewer calories. Indoor, inactive animals will also need reduced caloric intake.

Ideal Weight Ranges – The ideal weight of various dog and cat breeds suggested by veterinary professionals can be found in these tables.

Pet Weight Check – How to tell if your pet is a healthy weight can be seen by viewing these Body Conditioning Scoring Diagrams.

Contact VIP Pet Services for help with walking and exercising your pets while you work during the day.

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