Big CatAs we leave the holiday season, many of us have weight on our minds (and behinds).  We usually have a good idea of how to tell when it’s time to lose weight for our health and well-being, but what about for our pets?  It is estimated that 22-40% of cats and dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.  Pets are is considered “overweight” if they are at least 15% above their ideal weight, and “obese” if at least 30% above their ideal weight.

 How do we measure obesity in pets?

  1. Body Condition Scores (BCS): The most common method to evaluate your pet’s weight, body condition scoring uses a 1-9 system, with 5 being ideal. Cats and dogs who are assessed a 5/9 have an oberservable waist, ribs felt with little fat covering, and minimal abdominal fat.
  1. Motomorphic Measurements: Hill’s Science Diet has pioneered a measurement profile designed to personalize your pet’s ideal weight based on measurements of multiple areas of the the body

What causes obesity in pets?
Like obesity in humans, multiple factors contribute to obesity in pets.  Overfeeding, lack of exercise, low metabolism, and endocrine disorders can all cause weight gain. We, as owners, are in control of when, what, and how much our pets eat; it is important to feed the correct food, in the correct amount, at the correct frequency.

  • Correct food: The average adult dog needs a food “for all life stages” or standard adult food. Some pets maintain weight best on a light diet consistently.  While many people enjoy giving their pets the “treat” of table scraps, these foods are a common cause of weight gain in pets.
  • Correct amount: Use the back of the pet food bag as a guideline, as every food is formulated slightly differently. Using a measuring cup is very important!
  • Correct frequency: Twice daily, regulated feeding is recommended for most pets, as this helps them feel full over the course of the day.

Pets who are spayed or neutered, as well as older pets, have lower daily calorie needs than their intact or younger counterparts. Pets who are mainly “house animals”, particularly indoor-only cats and small breed dogs, have much lower calorie needs than pets who are mainly outdoors or participate in high-energy activities like agility, field trials, obedience trials or frequent hikes.

There are several endocrine disorders in dogs and cats that can contribute to obesity, as well.

  • Cushing’s Disease/Hyperadrenocorticism:  Cushing’s Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder involving an overproduction of steroid hormones in the body due to either a tumor on the adrenal gland or, more commonly, a overproduction of the hormone ACTH by the pituitary gland in the brain.  This disorder is most commonly diagnosed in middle aged or senior dogs. Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease include hair loss, thin skin, frequent skin infections, increased skin pigmentation, excessive panting, and weight gain.  There are several diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend if your pet has symptoms consistent with Cushing’s disease.
  • Low Thyroid Hormone/Hypothyroidism: Low thyroid hormone, or hypothyroidism, is most frequently seen in middle aged or senior dogs. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include hair loss, frequent skin infections, and weight gain.  A blood test to check your pet’s thyroid hormone levels is available through your veterinarian.
  • Diabetes: Pets with diabetes are unable to regulate their blood suger due to low insulin production or poor response to insulin.  Common symptoms in dogs and cats are frequency urination, increased thirst, weight gain or loss, and frequent bladder infections.  Your veterinarian may want to check your pet’s blood sugar level and urine to check for diabetes.

What are the consequences of obesity in cats and dogs?

  • Diabetes
  • Asthma or other lung disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (a “slipped disc” in the back) or other back pain issues
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas associated often resulting from high fat content diet or new foods
  • Self-grooming problems
  • Hepatic Lipidosis (“fatty liver disease”) – Most common in cats, this is often seen when an overweight pet stops eating for several days as a result of another illness, and can be deadly.
  • Increased anesthetic/surgical risk
  • Reduced lifespan
  • CCL/ACL rupture (tearing a ligament in the knee) or other ligament injury

How can we help pets lose weight in a healthy way?
For an overweight dog, switching to a “light” or “weight management” variety of the current diet, or reducing daily food intake by 10-20% may be sufficient, along with eliminating table scraps, reducing treats, and increasing activity.  For obese pets, prescription diets designed for weight loss need to be coupled with the above recommendations, and pets should have their weight loss monitored by a veterinarian.  Diets designed to increase metabolism, like Hill’s Science Diet Metabolic Diet, can be used with excellent results.

  • Give appropriate treats – Helping your pet lose weight doesn’t have to mean the end of treat time! Green beans and carrots are healthy, low calorie treats, and commercial “light” treats can be given in moderation.
  • Increase activity – For dogs, this generally means increasing walks, playing fetch, or participating in an obedience or agility class.  For cats, adding a cat tree with good vertical height, or playing with a laser pointer or other toys can be helpful.  Consulting your veterinarian prior to any significant increase in activity is recommended to make sure your pet is healthy enough for the activity you’ve selected.
  • Test for endocrine disorders – Check with your veterinarian about whether your pet should be tested for Cushing’s Disease, hypothyroidism, or other disorders, that can hamper weight loss or lead to other diseases down the road.

The doctors and staff at Westwood Animal Hospital would love to help you with your pet’s journey to better health.  Contact us today for further information on weight management or any other concerns you have about your pets.   Go to Metabolic Diet Weight Loss Plan for Obesity        Dr. Jaimie Levin

“Obesity in dogs, Part 1”:

Nestle Purina Body Condition Score System, Feline:

Nestle Purina Body Condtion Score System, Canine: