Pet obesity is a genuine epidemic - some studies suggest that as many as 50% of ALL dogs in the UK and USA are overweight or obese. We see similar problems here in the UAE, and vets from across the world are increasingly seeing obesity as the most common type of malnutrition in pets.
Are we killing with kindness?
This is the main reason for obesity - we love our pets (as we should!) and want to make them happy. And of course, our pets don’t have the same capacity for self-control as we do - so they’re not going to turn down a treat or a bit of extra food. This isn’t because they’re greedy though - they’re descended from wild wolves or sand-cats that were often one step away from starvation, so it’s in their genetic code to eat whenever there’s food around, because it might not be there tomorrow.
Unfortunately, our pets’ constant appetite and our desire to make them happy work together to make them steadily larger and fatter - often to the detriment of their health.
What are the long-term health impacts?
Obesity can affect every part of a dog’s body, in particular:
● Heart disease - the increased effort to push blood around an enlarged body means the heart has to work much harder
● Arthritis - extra weight means more load on joints, accelerating the development of joint disease. But doesn’t just stop at the overloading, it has now been shown that fat cells release chemicals which not only cause pain and inflammation, but also contribute to the start and progression of osteoarthritis! In fact, there are good studies that show weight loss can be as effective in managing pain from arthritis in dogs as prescription painkillers!
● Tumours - many tumours are more common in obese animals, especially lipomas and liposarcomas.
Those are all long-term conditions, so it’s not urgent it it?
Unfortunately it is - especially in our climate! Unlike people, dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down; instead, they must pant, blowing out hot breath and breathing in cooler air. Now, when the air temperature is close to body temperature (as it often is for us!), it takes a lot of effort to lose heat this way.
Now, a healthy dog will usually be able to cope; however, the obese dog’s respiratory system is much less efficient than his thinner counterpart. This is because the rolls of fat under the skin compress the chest wall, and extra fat in the abdomen puts pressure on the diaphragm, meaning the dog cannot move air as quickly. In addition, all that flab acts as an insulator, trapping heat inside the dog and reducing loss through the skin. As a result, obese dogs often start panting at really low temperatures (e.g. a gentle walk at 20 or 25C), because they cannot manage their waste body heat!
The situation is even worse for short-nosed dogs (e.g. Pugs and Bulldogs) and cats (e.g. Persian Cats). These “brachycephalic” animals have proportionately narrower nostrils and smaller windpipes; they also tend to have over-long soft palates for their size, resulting in significant respiratory compromise (hence the snoring or choking noises they regularly make). Add this to the problem of obesity and you won’t be surprised to hear that obese Pugs are among the most common animals we see with heatstroke, even on a mild day at this time of year!
How can my pet lose weight?
It’s very important to follow expert advice, because a “crash diet” can be very harmful - in cats, it can even lead to liver failure! We’d normally recommend weight loss of between 1 and 2% per week. The best solution is often to use a special “Obesity” or “Weight Control” diet which is formulated in such a way that although it is calorie controlled, the dog or cat still feels full after eating.
It’s also important NOT to try and exercise the fat away in dogs - over-exertion in an obese dog, especially in warm (or even mild) weather can lead to heat stroke; in addition, it increases the risk of injury. Exercise is of course vitally important, but until you’ve shifted some of the fat, little and often or non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming or using the water treadmill is probably the best approach!
If your dog is a bit overweight, make an appointment to see one of our wonderful vets or nurses for a Nutrition Consult and Weight Check. They’ll be able to help you get your pet fit, slim and healthy again!