Overweight and obesity are the most common nutritional disease in dogs and cats. The big difference between overweight in pets and humans is that animals do not have the ability to control their own weight. They depend only and exclusively on what their owners give them. From the age of one it is crucial to provide them the diet recommended for their age, species and breed. Otherwise, we can cause them overweight, even obesity.
Obesity is defined as an excess of body fat that may cause illness. When animals consume more calories than they spend, fat accumulates.
- Dogs are overweight when they exceed the standard weight for their breed by 15 – 30 %. An excess weight of more than 30 % means they are obese.
- In the case of cats, they are considered overweight when they exceed the “ideal weight” by more than 10 %, and they are obese over 20 %.
The exact medical cause of obesity and overweight is unknown. Research suggest that it is due to a disparity between the intake of food, and the expense of energy. According to these studies, balance depends mostly on neurological, physiological, metabolic, and hormonal factors. Nevertheless, there are other factors of risk regarding obesity:
- Overfeeding: many owners tend to give their pets the same food they eat, in addition to their own.
- Behavioral disorders: idleness, boredom, nervousness, and other problems can lead to an excessive food consumption.
- Genetics: some breed are more prone to gain weight than others:
- Dogs: mongrels, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Basset Hounds, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Bullmastiffs, Pugs, Pekineses, Beagles, Shetland Shepherds, Cairn Terriers, Poodles, and Teckels.
- Cats: mixed breed cats are more likely to become overweight, although some pure breeds are too — Maine Coon, Forest of Norway, Neva Masquerade, and Cornish Rex.
- Endocrine pathologies: hyperinsulinemia (excessive insulin in blood), hypothyroidism, and hyperadrenocorticism or cushing’s syndrome.
- Age: the probability of gaining too much weight is higher from the age of 5 to 10. Therefore, we must be specially careful with the diets of adult and senior pets. On the other hand, the excess of fat has negative effects on the health and life expectancy of animals.
- Gender: obesity is more frequent among female cats and dogs.
- Physical activity: many pets have a rather indolent life style, which can predispose to overweight.
- Diet: unbalanced diets can affect the energy balance and, consequently, overweight.
- Sterilization: desexed animals spend less energy.
How to Know if Our Pet Is Overweight or Obese?
- They look bigger than they should.
- At spine level, we cannot feel the vertebrae, and in the thorax we have trouble counting the ribs.
- They play less, their movements are more restricted than they used to, and show some intolerance to exercise.
- They sleep less, are in a bad mood, and show respiratory difficulties.
- There is fat accumulated in the lower back and base of the tail, among other places.
Pathologies and Risks of Overweight and Obesity
- Cardio-respiratory troubles.
- Skin diseases.
- Orthopedic and articular problems (rupture of ligaments, slipped disc, or arthrosis, among others).
- Accumulation of fat in the liver (hepatic lipidosis).
- Complaints of the urinary tract.
- Infertility and, in case of pregnancy, problems during labor (dystocia).
- Intolerance to exercise and hot weather.
- Increased risk during anesthesia.
How to Prevent Overweight and Obesity in Cats and Dogs
If we want that our pets to stay in their ideal weight, the most important is feeding them according to the physiological stage where they are. Depending on the age, level of physical activity, general condition, and whether they are pregnant, sterilized or lactating, the diet must be different.
Besides that, there are a few basic rules to follow:
- Do not give them leftovers of your food.
- Do not give them treats rich in sugar or fats.
- Make them exercise regularly.
- Keep control of their weight to correct problems in time.
Recommendations for the Loss of Weight
- Regulate the amount of food they eat every day. If you have other animals, they must not all eat at the same time, since the animal in treatment might eat the others’ ration.
- Divide the daily ration in several takes, to prevent anxiety.
- Weight them often, so you can evaluate the results.
- Remember that the loss of weight must gradual, since shedding weight too quickly might lead to failure.
You can resort also to a slimming program with food low in calories, or specific products for the treatment of the overweight. You can ask your usual veterinarian about the options available.