Veterinary medicine is much more than vaccines. It is about maintaining the wellness, happiness and longevity of your pet based upon proactive health management.

This month’s newsletter focuses upon a growing issue–overweight pets. Pets, just like people, need to remain active and eat the proper foods to maintain a healthy weight.

According to recent research from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 58% of cats and 53% of dogs in the United States were overweight in 2014. Obesity in pets is a growing problem and the repercussions can be serious.


Obese Dog


The Root of the Problem

Why are so many pets overweight? Experts have theorized causes of ever-expanding pet waistlines which include:

  • Food = Love? Food is often associated with love. And because we love our pets we want to show them that love. This results in additional food, treats and sometimes food intended for human consumption (which is generally much higher in calories and fat than pet food).
  • Early Spaying and Neutering. While experts agree that early spaying or neutering is good for population control and for the long-term health of pets, science is demonstrating that the hormone changes associated with this early procedure may lead to decreased caloric requirements resulting in an easier ability to gain weight.
  • Lack of Exercise. As we lead busier lives, many pet owners hope a brief run in the yard is sufficient to keep their pets healthy. For most dogs, this is not adequate. Dogs require our participation and interaction. Some dogs love to swim, others prefer to fetch, and some breeds, especially herding breeds, do best with a physical job. Finding the right level of excercise is essential for your pet’s health.
  • Exercising a Cat is Not Simple. Experts agree that cats are healthiest and safest indoors. But an indoor-only cat can become lazy which can lead to weight gain. One way to exercise your cat is to hide a small percentage of their meal in a food-puzzle or food-dispensing toy. Their innate prey drive will be activated as they "hunt" for food–forcing them to be more active. As play is important for cats, use toys that require your cat to chase and jump.
  • A Change in the Norm. Over the years, our idea of a normal weight has changed. As the waistlines of both pets and humans have expanded, we have become accustomed to weighing more. What was once an animal of average weight today may seem to be underweight because our perception has evolved. Unfortunately this new "normal" may not be healthy. 
  • Lack of Pet Owner Knowledge or Understanding. To complicate the pet obesity problem, many pet owners do not know if their pets are overweight. The APOP survey reveals a "fat pet gap" in which 90% of overweight cat owners and 95% overweight dogs owners incorrectly identified their pets as falling within the normal weight range.

People do not pack on the pounds overnight–and the same is true for our pets. Because weight gain is gradual it might be difficult to notice when a pet has become overweight. And for cats and small dogs, a few pounds can make a big difference.


Obese Cat


Consequences of Pet Obesity

Overweight and obese dogs and cats are more likely than their slimmer counterparts to suffer from arthritis earlier in life. Some types of cancer are also more prevalent in overweight and obese pets.

Among overweight cats in particular, diabetes is rampant.

Overweight and obese cats can have difficulty grooming themselves (which is bad for their physical well-being and psyche) as self-grooming is a fundamental part of being feline. Not fitting easily into the litter box can cause some overweight or obese cats to have accidents outside the box.

Some veterinary behaviorists suggest that obese dogs and cats may be depressed. Their daily activity is often limited to taking brief jaunts in the yard or to the litter box, eating, sleeping and eating some more.

How to Prevent Pet Obesity

We play an important role in the health of your pet. While pet owners generally do not weigh their pets consistently, your pet will be weighed at every visit to Kirkwood Animal Hospital. If we notice your pet’s weight has increased, we will review it with you.

Importantly, we can provide guidance about the right diet for your pet including the type of food, appropriate amount and frequency of feedings. We can also discuss the appropriate level of daily activity and the methods to best meet those goals.

If you believe your pet might be overweight, it is important to contact us to develop a plan to help them return to a healthy weight. Just as for humans, crash diets for pets are not healthy. However, crash diets for cats are particularly dangerous as they can trigger a sometimes-fatal liver disease.

Losing weight is never easy, but it can be done safely and effectively with guidance and assistance from the team at Kirkwood Animal Hospital.