Studies suggest that approximately 35 percent of cats examined at veterinary clinics are overweight, making obesity the leading nutritional disorder in cats. Learn the dangers of pet obesity, and how to get your pet back to a healthy body condition.
Obesity occurs when excess energy is converted into fat and stored as fat in the dog or cat’s connective tissue. This accumulation of body fat may be gradual over many years or it may be rapid, depending on the difference between energy intake and energy use. Animals weighing 20 percent or more over ideal body weight are considered obese.
DANGERS OF OBESITY:
An overweight pet may be susceptible to health problems such as:
- The threat of a reduced life span
- Impaired heart and breathing functions
- Digestive disturbances
- Increased surgical risk – anesthesia levels are more difficult to assess and it may also be more difficult for sutures to stay in place
- Skin problems such as dermatitis – folds of skin resulting from rolls of fat may invite infection
- Heat stress – heat dissipation is impaired due to insulating properties of fat
- Increased stress on skeleton, ligaments and tendons, which may be associated with excessive wear to joint surfaces and degenerative arthritis – this can lead to reluctance to exercise, exacerbating the problem
- Reduced reproductive efficiency – libido and semen quality in males or impaired fertility in females can cause lower litter size, increased mortality rates and problems with whelping and nursing
- Insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus, particularly in overweight cats
WHAT CAUSES OBESITY?
The causes of obesity are generally divided into three categories:
Excess caloric intake is the most common cause. The pet consumes too much food and does not expend the energy required to use the calories and maintain normal body weight. Many pet owners encourage an overweight condition by overfeeding or giving excessive treats or table scraps.
Genetic predisposition may contribute to obesity, especially in certain breeds. For example, Labrador retrievers, beagles, basset hounds and dachshunds seem to be more susceptible to obesity than some of the other sporting or working breeds.
Endocrine imbalances such as thyroid or pituitary dysfunction may cause obesity.
If you believe your pet is overweight, an examination by your veterinarian is suggested. Any predisposing abnormalities can be diagnosed or treated or your veterinarian may recommend a weight reduction program.
WEIGHT REDUCTION GUIDELINES
The following feeding guidelines for pets who are overweight or have the tendency to become overweight are presented as suggestions. They are not intended to replace the advice of a veterinarian.
- Reduce your pet’s caloric intake by feeding less. A reduction of not more than one-fourth of the previous caloric intake is recommended.
- Measure your pet’s food. Without measuring, it’s easy to overfeed.
- Omit feeding food from the table. Often, eliminating feeding table scraps is sufficient to achieve the desired weight reduction. Keeping your pet away from the area where the food is being prepared and served helps retrain it not to beg for or expect table scraps.
- Do not feed high-calorie treats.
- If you are omitting table scraps or reducing the amount of food being offered, feed the daily amount in two or three servings. You will feed less, but help prevent your pet from feeling hungry and help keep it from begging.
- Do not allow your pet to have access to garbage cans or other sources of additional food.
- The cooperation of all family members is needed to help ensure a successful weight reduction program.
- Combine exercise with diet management.
- Make certain fresh drinking water in a clean bowl is available for your pet at all times.
If you change your pet’s diet to a lower-calorie food, make the change gradually over a seven-to-ten day period. Add a small amount of the lower-calorie food to the diet currently being fed. Each day increase the amount of the lower-calorie food and decrease the current diet until the changeover is completed. This helps avoid digestive upsets frequently caused by sudden diet changes.
Dogs and cats should be at their recommended weight before breeding. Severe dietary restrictions during pregnancy may produce problems during gestation and lactation, which could be more severe than an obesity problem.
EXERCISING YOUR PET
To get your pet in shape, begin with a moderate exercise program. If you have questions about establishing such a program, consult your veterinarian. Gradually increase the length of the walks and extend play period times.
Walking and games are beneficial for both you and your pet. Calories are burned off and the bond between the two of you is strengthened. However, owners should avoid tug-of-war or any other game that pits the pet against its owner.
At the beginning of an exercise program obese pets may experience fatigue. They also have little tolerance for heat and humidity. Watch for shortness of breath or other signs of fatigue and slow down or stop before your pet experiences any problems.
Although cats are not likely to respond to a planned exercise program, it is possible to encourage them to exercise through play. Toys with “cat appeal” can be as simple as a ping pong ball rolled across the floor or a piece of string dragged across the floor or dangled just out of reach.
Some cats can be taught to walk on a leash. Others can be taught to retrieve. Training for these activities should start during kittenhood.
Estimating obesity is sometimes difficult because standards vary among different breeds and among individual dogs and cats. A thick haircoat on a dog or long hair on a cat may tend to mask obesity or a thin condition.
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