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Obesity in pets

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I can’t tell you how many pet owners arrive at my clinic saying, “both myself and Fluffy suffer from the COVID 15”, with the “COVID 15” referring to weight gain during the pandemic. Remember, it is important to realize that weight gain in pets is as dangerous as weight gain in humans. Here are a few of the diseases associated with obesity in pets: 

Growth abnormalities and arthritis: There is a documented link between overfeeding and growth abnormalities. One study was able to prove that by feeding a group of growing dogs less calories than the control group, the risk of hip dysplasia was reduced by 25%. We are not talking about starving dogs, just not overfeeding. Additionally, the added weight is a burden on already arthritic joints, especially in older pets.

Respiratory Disorders: Severe obesity will lead to respiratory problems in any pedigree or mixed breed. However, brachycephalic breeds (breeds with flat faces) such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apso, English Bulldogs, Pekingese, etc) and cat breeds such as Persians are at a higher risk.  

Pancreatitis and diabetes: Pancreatitis is a serious disease, sometimes life threatening, in dogs and cats just as it is in people and risk increases with obesity. Pancreatitis can damage the insulin- producing cells in the pancreas but experts conclude that insulin resistance is more common in obese pets similar to insulin resistance in obese humans.

Anesthetic risk: Recent studies have shown a 20 to 40% increase in mortality associated with general anesthesia in obese patients. The added fat increases blood pressure and makes it more difficult for the anesthetized patient to breathe on their own under general anesthesia.

Heart failure: Although obesity does not have a direct effect on the development of heart disease or failure, obesity in a pet with a pre-existing heart condition will hasten the progression to heart failure. 

How do we reverse the trend of obesity in our pets? Same as ourselves: eat less, exercise more. However, before radically reducing your pet’s food intake or taking them on a 10-mile run, it would be better to make an appointment with your veterinarian to examine your pet. This way both you and your veterinarian can identify obesity and make sure there is no underlying disease that should be addressed first. Older pets that suffer from obesity could also have an underactive thyroid gland, arthritis, etc. 

If your veterinarian feels that your pet is healthy, then you can identify obesity and set realistic goals. Eliminating all the extras (table scraps, extra cookies, treats, rawhides, pig’s ears, etc) are a good start.  These are all empty calories. If that is not working then you may need to cut back on the amount of food, or consider a weight-reducing diet. These diets are available both commercially and through your veterinarian.  

Controlled exercise (short walks at first) not only burns calories but enhances the bond between our pets and ourselves. Cats, especially indoor only cats, can’t go on walks but there are toys that you can play with them. Make sure these toys are not made of material that could be chewed off or fray and potentially form an obstruction.    

So, remember to have your pets eat right and exercise. That is the best way to keep them happy and healthy.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Spring has sprung and as I look at my waistline it is obvious I put on a few extra pounds during the winter months. Fighting obesity is a year-round battle in both people and pets. The questions arise however: Are there factors predisposing pets to obesity? If so, what are they?

Breeds

Studies have shown that certain canine breeds such as cairn terriers, West Highland terriers, Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, basset hounds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, beagles, cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers all are predisposed to obesity. Conversely, site hounds (greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, whippets, Afghan hounds, etc.) seem to be more resistant to obesity.

Feline breeds including the domestic short hair, domestic medium hair, domestic long hair and Manx breeds are predisposed to obesity. Unfortunately, it is estimated that regardless of breed, approximately 25 percent of all cats owned in the U.S. are obese.

Exercise/Environment

This one is kind of self-explanatory. Dogs and cats that are more active or are encouraged to exercise have less problems with obesity. It is important to differentiate between consistent, low-impact exercise versus trying to lose all the weight in one day. We don’t want to predispose our pets to heat stroke or orthopedic injuries.

Spay/Neuter

In both cats and dogs the loss of certain hormones associated with the reproductive system will affect metabolism. Through studies it is estimated that the calorie requirements drop by about 25 percent after a spay or neuter.

Ironically, all of the feeding recommendations on the cans and bags of dog/cat food are by an association called AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). The AAFCO recommendations are based on studies on intact dogs and cats (dogs and cats that were never spayed or neutered).

I could see that if one follows those recommendations one would be going to the store more often to buy more food. Unfortunately, that also means that we are overfeeding our pets. Therefore, the recommendation at our clinic is to decrease the amount of food by approximately 25 percent (from what is recommended on the packaging) after your dog or cat is spayed or neutered.

Age

As dogs and cats age their calorie requirements drop. In your average sized dog it is estimated that its overall calorie requirements drop by approximately 20 percent past age 7. Although I could not find similar data in cats, I would say from experience the same is true for them. There are some dogs and cats that are more active and may need more calories, but this is something to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Nutrition

This topic is easy. Cheaper brands tend to use lower quality proteins and carbohydrates that predispose to obesity. If possible, spend a little more now on a higher quality diet and it will pay off in the long run. I hope this information helps us to win the battle on obesity and improve the quality of life for our pets.

Thanks for reading, Dr. Matt.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

It’s 2017 and time to start our New Year’s Resolutions!! We all know the struggle with the battle of the bulge. We all want to look and feel good. We all know that regular exercise and diet is the key to a long, healthy life. Well, our thinking in that regard should extend to our four-legged friends. Obesity in this country is as big a problem in dogs and cats as it is in ourselves.

Obesity in our pets is more a concern of long-term health rather than self-esteem. Although we do not worry about coronary artery disease in pets, there are plenty of diseases that are directly linked to obesity as well as certain diseases that obesity will exacerbate.

There has been a proven link between overfeeding young dogs and growth abnormalities. In one study scientists were able to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia by 25 percent just by feeding one group of dogs less calories than another. We are not talking about starving dogs, just not overfeeding. All growth abnormalities will lead to an early onset of arthritis. Additionally, the added weight is a burden on already arthritic bones and joints in older pets.

Dog breeds such as pugs, Boston terriers, shih tzus, Lhasa apso, English bulldogs and Pekingese and cat breeds such as Persians, etc. (brachycephalic breeds or breeds with flat faces) are predisposed to breathing problems because of their anatomy, but obesity will exacerbate the respiratory problem. Severe obesity in any breed will lead to respiratory problems in any pedigree or mixed breed.

Certain conditions have been directly related to obesity. Hepatic lipidosis or “fatty liver disease” is a pathologic condition that can lead to severe liver problems and in some cases liver failure and death in cats, but severe obesity can lead to liver disease in both dogs and cats.

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a serious (sometimes life-threatening disease in dogs and cats) that is a risk with obesity. There is also a higher incidence of diabetes in obese dogs and cats. Thus is believed to be related not only to damage to the pancreas but also insulin resistance (as in humans). Although obesity does not directly effect the heart, obesity in a pet that has a pre-existing heart condition will hasten the progression to heart failure.

How do we prevent obesity in our pets? Same as ourselves: Eat less, exercise more. Before radically reducing your pet’s food intake, it would be better to make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your dog or cat examined. This way both you and your veterinarian can identify obesity and make sure there is no underlying disease.

Some older pets will suffer from obesity from arthritis. It is not that they eat more but rather they exercise less because they are unable to move like they used to. Also an underactive thyroid and some other health disorders can lead to obesity.

There are medications available for many of the disorders that cause obesity, but they have to be diagnosed first. Also realize that spayed or neutered pets will gain weight if you do not monitor their food intake. Just because your pet was spayed or neutered does not mean that they will automatically become obese but they may be more at risk.

If your veterinarian feels that your pet is healthy then you can identify obesity and set realistic goals. Eliminating all the extras (table scraps, extra cookies, treats, rawhides, pig’s ears, etc) are a good start. These are all empty calories. If that is not working then you may need to cut back on the amount of calories from dog or cat food your pet receives. Either feed your pet less or consider one of the special weight reducing diet. These diets are available both commercially and through your veterinarian.

Exercise is both physically and mentally healthy for our pets as well as ourselves. Controlled exercise (short walks at first) not only burns calories but enhances the bond between our pets and ourselves. I know I could use the walks more than my dog.

For cats (especially indoor only cats) there are toys that you can play with them. Make sure these toys are not made of material that could be chewed off and potentially form an obstruction or if they do fray throw them away before they do become a problem. I used to tie a piece of string to my belt loop just to get my fat cat to chase me while I cleaned my apartment.

So, remember to have your pets eat right and exercise. That is the best way to keep them happy and healthy in the New Year.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.