Fully Vetted: Obesity also affects our pets

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The obesity epidemic in the United States not only affects people, it also affects our pets. It is estimated that over half of the dogs and cats in this country are overweight or obese. As in humans, obesity affects almost every body system. It therefore contributes to the development of many diseases, decreased quality of life, and decreased life expectancy.

Many pets suffer from joint problems as they age. Excess body weight causes increased pressure on joints, which can significantly worsen the pain of arthritis. Increased joint pain can lead to decreased mobility, causing further weight gain. Excess weight also causes increased pressure upon the spine, potentially exacerbating back injuries such as IVDD (“slipped disc”), which can lead to paralysis.

Excess body fat can contribute to the development of diabetes by causing insulin resistance.  Diabetes can be difficult to manage in pets, and it can result in life-threatening complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis.

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Obesity increases the tissue mass to which the heart must pump blood. This increased workload causes excess strain on the heart and can lead to heart failure.

Breathing can be severely affected by excess body weight. Excess fat in the chest and abdomen restricts the ability of the lungs to expand. Fat can also place pressure upon the trachea (windpipe), making it difficult to bring oxygen into the body.

The body’s cooling mechanisms are also compromised in overweight pets. Fat acts as an insulator, causing heat storage. Excess body weight makes the body’s cooling mechanisms, such as panting, much less effective, and predisposes pets to overheating.

Obesity also contributes to diseases of the skin, digestive disorders, liver disease, and kidney disease.  The development of certain types of cancer has been linked to obesity. Overweight pets are also at increased risk of anesthetic and surgical complications.

Even with knowledge of the risks of obesity, many pet owners have difficulty keeping their pets at an ideal body weight. Many factors may be to blame, but overfeeding and lack of exercise are the most common.

Many pet owners fail to realize that, since their pets usually weigh significantly less than the average human, a seemingly small number of calories can make a big difference when it comes to weight loss. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter to a 20-pound dog is calorically equivalent to one slice of pizza for a 150-pound person. Similarly, what may seem to be small amounts of weight gain in pets are actually quite significant. For example, a 12-pound dog gaining five pounds is equivalent to a 140-pound person gaining 58 pounds!

Sometimes, underlying diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can be to blame for unexplained weight gain. If you are concerned that your pet may be overweight, a consultation with your veterinarian is warranted. He or she will help to rule out potential underlying conditions that may be causing problems, and can help you to develop a weight loss plan that will manage your pet’s individual needs.

Dr. Kelly Sulik owns and operates Animobile Mobile Veterinary Services in Tryon, N.C. She can be reached at animobiledvm@gmail.com.