What is the most common health problem our veterinarians see at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital? Easy guesses might be kidney disease, or oral disease, so the answer might be surprising: it’s obesity. Chances are, everyone knows someone with a chubby dog or a fat cat. This is because America’s furry friends have a big problem: pet obesity rates are at an all-time high. In 2018, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats were overweight. Obese pets are at significantly increased risk for joint disease such as osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, as well as overall health problems such as type II diabetes and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).
How exactly is pet obesity defined? Here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, our veterinarians use the Purina Body Condition System to assess a pet’s weight. Each pet is assigned a score from 1 to 9, with a 4-to-5 as the “ideal” weight. At a 5 on the scale, pets have a defined, easily visible waist as well as an obvious abdominal tuck. A 6 or a 7 is an overweight animal, with 8s and 9s qualifying as obese. An easy way to check if a pet is at a good weight is to feel along the animal’s rib cage. The ribs should be felt in the same way as the bones across the back of a human hand. If they are more prominent, the pet is underweight, but if they can only be felt by pressing hard or can’t be felt at all, the pet is overweight.
Once a pet has reached overweight or obese status, what is the best way to help him or her lose the weight? This depends on a lot of factors, such as: the animal’s age and normal activity level; whether it is a dog, a cat, or a rabbit; and what the pet’s current diet is. The veterinarians at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital work closely with pet owners to create a custom weight loss plan based on all of these factors. Sometimes it is as simple as cutting each meal back by 20%, or switching to a
weight-management diet. Pets on grain-free diets are more likely to pack on the weight since grain-free diets are usually more calorically dense (have more calories per cup) than diets that contain grains, so a switch to a different food altogether may help Fluffy or Rover slim down. For obese pets in need of a rigorous diet plan, KAH veterinarians sometimes recommend Hill’s Metabolic Diet, a prescription-only food that is formulated specifically to help pets feel full while increasing their metabolism. Each dog or cat started on Metabolic is measured to determine their target weight and given a weight loss-over-time plan. This is because It is dangerous for animals, especially cats, to lose weight too quickly! Rapid weight loss, whether it is intended or not, is a sign that a pet needs to see a veterinarian.
Perhaps the most compelling argument to get the pounds off the pooch is a recent study from the University of Liverpool in England. Researchers found that dogs who were overweight live an average of two-and-a-half less years than dogs who were a healthy weight. All of us want as many years as possible with our fur-babies, and we want them to be good, healthy years, right? Please make an appointment with a veterinarian at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital so that we can help with any weight-loss woes!