We are all aware that obesity has become a problem in the United States, particularly over the last twenty years. The number of Americans that are classified as overweight but not obese has remained essentially unchanged, but the number classified as obese has risen by over twenty percentage points. There are a lot of different theories for why this has occurred, from changes in diet to changes in activity level to changes in the microbiota in our gut. What isn’t theory, however, is the long list of detrimental health effects associated with obesity.
Obesity isn’t just a problem with humans. It’s also a problem with our companion animals and animals that live in close proximity to us. In a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society researchers discovered that obesity is a rising problem in many species living in close proximity to humans. Researchers collected weights on 20,000 adult animals across 8 different species over a period of decades. What they found was that weights and incidences of obesity had risen across all of the animal populations. Before you jump to the conclusion that it is simply a matter of richer foods and less activity, the weight gains were also recorded in laboratory animals, whose food intake and activity levels are closely monitored.
It is important to maintain our companion animals at a healthy weight. Obesity in our pets is associated with the same sorts of problems experienced by obese humans, including joint pain, diabetes, heart disease, and many others. At your yearly exam, we will tell you if your pet is getting overweight, but there is also a simple test that you can do at home to score your pet’s body condition. Feel along his or her ribs. If the ribs feel like your knuckles, the dog is underweight. If they feel like the back of your hand, the dog is at the right weight. And if they feel like the palm of your hand, the dog is overweight.
There are a lot of options available to you if you would like to help your pet lose weight. We have prescription diets like Hills Prescription Diet R/D and Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic Diet. Metabolic Diet, in particular, can have a profound impact on overweight dogs provided that the owner follows our recommendations for feeding.
Maintaining a healthy level of activity is also important. Cats can be exercised with a laser pointer or with chase toys, both of which entice their predatory instincts and exercise both their body and their mind. As it becomes less and less common for cats to spend time outdoors, the stimuli and exercise they might find outside chasing birds and squirrels needs to be recreated indoors.
There are many opportunities to exercise your companion dog, as well, though they need to be breed appropriate. Large, working-breed class dogs will need different types of activities than smaller toy breeds. A border collie or a heeler might exercise their body and mind by going with you on a 5k run, or taking part in an organized canine sporting activity like flyball or canine agility, while a chihuahua might get the same benefit from a half mile walk.
Obesity and obesity related illnesses are the single biggest problem I face in my practice today. It is the most common preventable health problem I treat and I encourage every one of my clients to address it as soon as it is identified. If your pet is overweight, of a breed prone to obesity, or has been overweight for some time, call our hospital and let us find a weight loss program that fits you and your pet.