Six Risk Factors for Obesity
Any cat or dog can become overweight; however, certain breeds of dogs are more apt to be overweight than others. These include Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Dalmatians, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Shetland Sheepdogs, certain mixed breeds and most definitely, the Labrador Retriever.
Labs are the most popular breed in the U.S. and they are also the most likely to be overweight. Labs are big eaters and coupled with a need for fewer calories than many people realize, these dogs tend to bulk up quickly.
Neutered dogs of both sexes are twice as likely to be overweight as intact dogs. Male cats are genetically predisposed to become heavy and the risk increases if your male kitty is neutered.
The risk of overweight increases as your dog or cat gets older. Just as in people, the dreaded “midline spread” is common in pets. If you’re still feeding your 3-year-old dog the same amount you fed him two years ago, you may very well be overfeeding.
Another age-related risk factor has to do with your own age. Seniors and the elderly tend to overfeed and/or over-treat their pets.
Feeding guidelines on pet food packages
We have no idea how most pet food manufacturers arrive at their “how much to feed” guidelines, but typically if you follow their instructions, you’ll wind up with a fat dog or cat.
We recommend asking your integrative veterinarian how many calories your pet should consume each day based on their breed, age, activity level and current body condition.
Dog and cat treats – even very healthy ones – should not constitute more than 15 percent of your pet’s daily calorie intake, and preferably less than 10 percent. Feeding treats on top of daily food intake will result in an overweight pet and treats should never be a substitute for balanced, species-appropriate food. A good rule of thumb for treat size is “the smaller the better.” Get in the habit of feeding tiny treats and feed them infrequently.
Reality Check: Is My Pet Overweight?
As a general rule, your pet is at a healthy weight if the following factors apply:
Ribs and spine are easily felt
There is a waist when viewed from above
Abdomen is raised and not sagging when viewed from the side
Your dog or cat is overweight or obese if:
You can’t feel the ribs or spine beneath fat deposits
Fat deposits extend to the chest, tail base and hindquarters
The waist is distended or pear shaped when viewed from above
The abdomen sags when viewed from the side
The chest and abdomen appear distended or swollen
If you’re not sure whether your pet is overweight, you should consult your veterinarian. Together, you can determine what your dog or cats ideal weight should be and the best way to help your pet achieve and maintain a healthy size.
What Kinds of Changes Should You Look Out For?
Many pet owners will not notice their dog or cat has been gradually putting on extra weight until the animal starts slowing down significantly. More often it is the animal’s regular groomer or veterinarian that will notice your pet’s physical changes. To do a check on your pet, feel around its midsection while your pet is standing. The ribs and spine should be easy to feel and, on most pets, there should be a tucked in or slight hourglass shape to the waist. If you cannot easily feel your dog or cat’s ribs or spine and the tucked-in waist has thickened considerably enough to give the animal a more tubular shape, it is time for you to consult with your veterinarian about weight loss regimen for your pet.
What Harm Can a Few Pounds Do to My Pet?
According to recent findings by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats can be classified as overweight or obese. A gain of even a pound or two of additional fat on some dogs and cats can place significant stress on the body.
Some of the conditions that can occur as a result of excess weight are:
- Exercise intolerance, decreased stamina
- Respiratory compromise (breathing difficulty)
- Heat intolerance
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Liver disease or dysfunction
- Osteoarthritis (lameness)
- Increased surgical/anesthetic risk
- Lowered immune system function
- Increased risk of developing malignant tumors (cancer)
- See more in-depth risks below
What Can Be Done to Alleviate the Damage?
In many cultures, the sharing of food is regarded as a loving gesture, but the most loving thing you can do for your overweight pet is to put it on a diet. This is the only way to ensure that your pet will have the best opportunity for a life that is full of activity and good health. Besides, there are lots of healthy treats available and lots of loving gestures you can share with your pet without worrying about them leading to weight gain. Talk to your veterinarian about a good reduced-calorie food and exercise plan that will specifically benefit your pet’s age, weight and breed and you will be on your way to getting your pet on the road to recovery before it is too late.
More in-depth risks that your dog may face to being overweight or obese
As in people, dogs carrying extra pounds of weight place extra demands on virtually all the organs of their bodies. When we overload these organs, disease and sometimes death are the consequences. The health risks to overweight dogs are serious and every dog owner should be aware of them. The more common consequences of obesity in dogs are discussed below.
Cruciate Ligament Injury
Too much weight is a well-known risk factor for tearing the cranial cruciate ligament, an important ligament in the knee. A torn cruciate ligament must be repaired with surgery. For more information, please follow this link: Torn Cruciate
Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)
One of the most common complications of obesity in dogs is the development of diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Obesity causes an increase in the secretion of insulin in response to the increased blood glucose level in the overweight dog. Insulin is also more in demand simply because there is a greater amount of tissue in an overweight dog. When requirements for insulin exceed the ability of the body to produce insulin, diabetes mellitus develops. If the need for insulin increases over a long period of time, the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin can actually ‘burn out,’ again resulting in diabetes.
Damage to joints, bones and ligaments
Studies have suggested that approximately one-quarter of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications. The bones, joints, muscles, and associated tendons and ligaments all work together to give the dog smooth and efficient movement. If they are required to carry excess weight, they can start to become damaged. Arthritis can develop and the pain and joint changes associated with hip dysplasia can become markedly more severe.
Extra tension on joints caused by an increased weight load can also lead to damage of certain ligaments. Ligaments are tough, fibrous strands of tissue that hold on bone in proximity to another bone in joints. One of the ligaments in the knee, the cranial cruciate ligament, is very prone to strains or tears. If this ligament is torn, the knee becomes very unstable and the dog is reluctant to use it. Surgery must be done to repair this torn ligament.
Certain breeds of dogs, such as Dachshunds are prone to develop intervertebral disc disease (‘slipped disc’). Carrying extra weight increases the probability that they will develop this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.
Heart disease and increased blood pressure
As in people, overweight dogs tend to have increased blood pressure. The heart has an increased work load since it must pump additional blood to excess tissues. This can lead to congestive heart failure.
In overweight animals, the lungs can’t function properly. The additional fat in the chest restricts the expansion of the lungs. The extra fat in the abdomen pushes against the diaphragm, which separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. This also results in less space in the chest for the lungs to expand on inspiration. To make matters worse, the increased quantity of tissue puts an increased demand on the lungs to supply oxygen. These changes are especially serious in dogs who may already have respiratory disease.
Dogs who are overweight have less endurance and stamina. Carrying all that extra weight around takes a lot more work. The heart, muscles and respiratory system are all asked to do more than they were designed for.
Fat is an excellent insulator, which is fine if you are a polar bear. But if you are an overweight dog in the heat of summer, the excess fat can make you miserable and much less capable of regulating your body temperature.
Decreased liver function
The liver stores fat so when a dog is overweight, an increased amount of fat builds up in the liver. This is called hepatic lipidosis, this condition can result in decreased liver function.
Increased surgical and anesthetic risk
The effects of obesity on the heart and lungs have serious ramifications during anesthesia. Cardiac arrest and poor circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues can occur.
Many of the anesthetics are taken up by fat, so an overweight animal will take longer to come out of anesthesia because the anesthetic must be removed from the fat by the body. In addition, many anesthetics are broken down by the liver. A fatty liver may not be as efficient at breaking down anesthetics and other drugs, so again, recovery may be delayed.
The increased fat in the tissues makes surgery more difficult. Basically, it is harder to find or get at what you are looking for. The fat obscures the surgical area. For example, in abdominal surgery in an obese dog, there may be literally inches of fat between where the skin incision is made and the organ you need to work on, such as the urinary bladder. This makes the surgery technically more difficult and the procedure will also take longer, which again increases the anesthetic risk.
Overweight dogs tend to have more problems giving birth than dogs at their optimum weight. This difficult birthing is called dystocia. Dogs experiencing dystocia often need veterinary assistance to deliver their pups and may require a cesarean section.
An overweight dog has an increased risk of developing constipation and may also have more problems with intestinal gas and flatulence, which is not pleasant for the dog or the owner.
Decreased immune function
Obesity in the dog is associated with decreased resistance to viral and bacterial infections.
Skin and hair coat problems
The risk of skin and hair coat disease are increased in dogs who are overweight. The skin forms more and different types of oils, the skin may fold in on itself creating pockets, which are ideal for the accumulation of oils and the development of infections.
Increased risk of cancer
The exact link between obesity and developing certain cancers is unknown. However, there have been studies which suggest that obese dogs tend to have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, including a particular type of cancer of the urinary bladder. A recent study also found that dogs who were obese at one year of age were at greater risk of developing mammary tumors.
Decreased quality and length of life
It is evident from the above discussion that the health, ability to play, even to breathe are diminished in overweight dogs. Overweight dogs may become more irritable due to being hot, in pain or simply uncomfortable. Overweight dogs die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.
It is clear that we are not contributing positively to our dog’s health when we allow them to become overweight. The next time those big brown eyes say ‘Can I please have a treat,’ think very carefully first. In most cases, your answer should be ‘No, and I’m doing this for your own good,’ and it will be absolutely true.
Are You Overfeeding Your Pet?
Please follow the link below that gives you a diagram of some common treats owners will feed their pets and see just how bad it can be for them. There are separate charts for dogs and cats.