We all love our pets so much that it is easy to shower them with affection. Sometimes, we show this love through the gifts of food or treats. After all, nothing makes them happier, and those puppy dog eyes are hard to resist. But when your pet gets too much of a good thing, they can pack on the pounds, affecting their health. So if you can help your pet stay at a healthy weight and avoid becoming overweight or obese, you give them a better chance of a longer and healthier life.
Pet obesity is a big problem (no pun intended). Unfortunately, studies show that over 50% of pets in the United States are obese or overweight. Moreover, many pet owners perceive that their pets are within a healthy weight range, even when overweight. This disconnect is concerning, and it means we must do a better job of educating pet owners about the risks and health issues excess weight can cause. To that end, we are focusing on the impact of weight on whole body health to coincide with Pet Obesity Awareness Day, which is October 12, 2022.
Is Your Pet Overweight?
Obesity is defined as an accumulation of excess body fat. Of course, not every overweight pet is obese, and the ideal weight depends on your pet’s age, breed, metabolism, and body type. Unfortunately, pet owners might have difficulty determining if their pet is overweight since excess weight tends to creep up gradually. Luckily, at your pet’s annual preventive care exam, we use Body Condition Scoring to determine their ideal healthy weight.
Pet owners can do a simple observation in between exams. First, stand over your pet from above, and look down at them, noticing if they have a defined waist. If not, your pet may be overweight. Next, run your hands along your pet’s sides to see if you can feel rib bones; you should be able to feel their rib bones beneath the skin, without a layer of fat over them. Lastly, check your pet from the side for a sagging stomach, indicating that your pet may be overweight.
The Consequences of Excess Weight in Pets
Whatever the reason for a pet being overweight, research indicates that excessive adipose (fat) tissue is linked to certain health conditions.
Some of these health problems include:
Reduced Life Expectancy: Studies show that the lifespan of obese pets is 2.5 years shorter than pets at a healthy weight. That’s a great reason, all by itself, to pay close attention to your pet’s weight.
Chronic Inflammation: New research has found that toxins produced by excess fatty tissue circulate in an obese pet’s bloodstream, causing hundreds of inflammatory responses throughout the body; if this inflammation becomes chronic, it causes additional health problems for your pet.
Skin Disorders: Overweight pets generally do not groom themselves as well and are more prone to skin infections that can occur where skin folds over on itself. Additionally, overweight pets tend to have less healthy skin and coats overall.
Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease that impacts the body’s ability to process glucose. It often occurs when your pet’s pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to break down the glucose in the body. Although obesity is not the only cause of diabetes, it is a known risk factor.
Orthopedic Disease: There is a direct link between Osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity. The joints of overweight pets become more stressed over time, and the cartilage that protects healthy joints breaks down faster in overweight pets. Additionally, newer research suggests that fat-derived compounds contribute to chronic inflammation of the body, including the joints, which can also lead to OA.
High Blood Pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can develop secondary to obesity. Although the link between them is still not fully understood, overweight pets’ hearts must work harder to pump blood to their body, resulting in high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage the eyes, heart, central nervous system, and kidneys.
Cancer: It is well known in humans that being overweight contributes to up to 30% of significant cancers. In pets, this number is likely not far behind. Estrogen and growth factors, insulin and insulin resistance, and chronic inflammation due to excess fatty tissue all play a role in the increased cancer rate in obese pets.
Respiratory Disease: Pets who are obese have a harder time catching their breath and may pant excessively after even a short walk. Usually, the excess fatty tissue presses down on the chest wall, making it difficult to take enough air into the lungs.
Obesity is a severe concern in pets and dramatically impacts your pet’s quality of life. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to give your pet a longer and healthier life. Call us if you need to make an appointment for a wellness exam, want to help your pet lose weight safely, or if you have any questions about obesity and pet health.