Animal Obesity: A Big Deal By: Dr. Nora Schmidt Veterinary Specialty Care Emergency Doctor

We’ve all sat down to eat a snack, only to realize that we have a set of large eyes focused on our every move.  We’ve all seen those expressive furry eyebrows, desperately begging for a little taste of whatever we’re eating.  And most of us have given in and shared a little morsel or two.  Our pets will often eat their own meal and then tell us they’re still starving and need more. Many of us give in, over and over again.  We all want to give our beloved pets everything they want to keep them happy and many people believe that food equals love.  But the sad truth is: overfeeding can greatly shorten our pet’s lives and cause unnecessary suffering.  Obesity has become the most common health problem diagnosed in animals.
Did you know that obese animals usually die many years before their healthy counterparts?
There has been a lot of research conducted on obesity in animals, and the results are astounding.  Animals that are at a healthy weight live 1.7 times longer than obese animals – that’s almost twice as long!
That means that by keeping our animals at their optimum weight, we get to enjoy many more years of happiness together.  And I think we all agree that the benefits of more years together greatly outweigh the stress of the sad, begging looks we get from our pets.  I assure you, they’re not starving.  As a pug owner myself, I witness forlorn, “hungry” looks every day.  But keeping my dogs healthy is my job as their human mom because they can’t make these decisions for themselves.
Over the years, I have seen many animals brought into the emergency clinic for obesity-related problems.  The list of these problems is a long one:
  • Carrying extra weight stresses our pet’s heart, lungs and joints on a daily basis, often leading to life-threatening complications.
  • Weight gain of even a pound in a tiny or small-breed dog can cause a weakened trachea (the airway between the nose and lungs) to collapse completely, causing intense coughing and extreme difficulty breathing.
  • Overweight male cats are more likely to experience episodes of urethral blockage (urine accumulates in the bladder with no way out of the body), resulting in an emergency situation that often requires surgery.
  • Diabetes and often-fatal fat deposition in the liver are much more likely in obese cats.
  • And then, of course, there is the long list of orthopedic problems ranging from cruciate injury (tearing of knee ligaments) to early onset of severe arthritis.  Many people have to make the painful decision to euthanize their beloved pet due to unrelenting arthritic pain that would have been much milder and later in onset if their pet had stayed at a healthy weight.
  • Finally, there is another very big risk we take when we allow our pets to gain too much weight – anesthesia.  We all try to avoid having our animals put under anesthesia for procedures.  And although there are some surgeries that are recommended but still optional, there are emergencies that occur unexpectedly in which surgery is required to keep an animal alive.  Obese animals have a much higher anesthetic risk, making them less likely to survive anesthesia.
 The good news in all of this?  Obesity is a completely avoidable and treatable disease!
How many opportunities do we get in life to prevent a lot of suffering in our furry kids?  All pets should all be examined by a veterinarian every six to twelve months, even if we see no obvious health problems.  If your pet is carrying extra pounds, your vet can determine an ideal weight, exercise regimen, type of food and portion size. There are also some metabolic diseases like thyroid or adrenal gland disease that can cause abnormal weight gain, despite food restriction.  Your veterinarian can test for these diseases if he/she suspects them based on clinical examination and your valuable input.  If underlying medical conditions are ruled out and your pet isn’t losing any weight, despite exercise and diet revisions, there is a weight loss medication that can be used in dogs.  Unfortunately, no such medication has been approved for use in cats yet.
Are you ready to find your pet’s waistline again?  Once you’ve designed a weight-loss regimen with your veterinarian, stay the course.  Be strong when those eyebrows and sad eyes try to work their magic on you.
Instead, think of all those extra years of fun together that you have ahead of you!
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