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Obesity is the number one nutritional disease affecting our pets. As Americans have packed on the pounds, so have the canine and feline companions with whom we share our homes and, occasionally, our meals. Obesity is also the number one disease I diagnose in dogs and cats in my clinical practice (with periodontal disease being the second).
Having grown up as an overweight child, and then making a concerted effort to improve my health and fitness in my teenage years and into adulthood, I am passionate about promoting anti-obesity awareness for pets.
Pet owners must recognize the negative holistic health implications of obesity. As an optimally functioning body relies on the highly operating sum of its parts, nearly all organ systems suffer under the stress of carrying excess weight. Life threatening and potentially irreversible health diseases affect the following systems:
Metabolic: The functional synergy between the kidneys, liver, pancreas, thyroid and adrenal glands is disrupted by obesity.
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary: The heart, blood vessels and lungs are forced to inefficiently function at an elevated capacity when providing oxygen rich blood to excessive body tissue.
Immune: Obesity and lack of activity cause stagnation in the lymphatic system, which reduces fluid drainage and the ability for white blood cells to manage infection.
Musculoskeletal and Nervous: Arthritis (joint inflammation), degenerative joint disease (DJD, the sequela of chronic arthritis), and improper nerve conduction all occur from supporting excess weight.
Dermatologic: Portly pets are less capable of grooming themselves and more prone to skin fold dermatitis (inflammation) and infection (bacteria and yeast).
Gastrointestinal: Inactivity delays peristalsis (involuntary contraction of the intestines), leading to indigestion and constipation.
What are the clinical signs that your pet may be overweight or obese? I use each patient’s body weight as a landmark, but focus on their Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS scale ranges from one to nine, with one and nine being the respective extremes of thin and thick. The ideal BCS is five. Pets having a BCS over five, yet less than seven, are considered overweight. A BCS greater than seven classifies a pet as obese.
Your pet is overweight or obese if any (or all) of the following physical indicators are present:
Excess fat covering the ribs: A thick layer of fat inhibits easy palpation of the ribs.
Lack of waistline: When looking down on your pet from above, there is a lack of visible narrowing just behind the last (13th) rib.
Pendulous abdominal fat: Fatty tissue dangles from the underside of your pet’s abdomen, which may even swing while walking or running.
Now that you have determined that your pet needs to lose weight, what can you do?
There is no singular correct food, feeding system, or exercise program that can be employed over your pet’s lifetime. As your pet ages or is afflicted by illness, its dietary and physical activity needs will change. Please use common sense and the guidance of a veterinarian in creating a feeding and fitness program for your pet.
Copyright of this article (2011) is owned by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr. Patrick Mahaney. Opinions in this article are not necessarily those of the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
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