Part I of a two-part article by guest blogger Dr. Ken Tudor:
An estimated 59% of dogs and cats are overweight or obese. Excessive weight is the #1 medical condition plaguing the pet population. Compounding the issue is the failure of owners and veterinarians to recognize the problem. 70% of pet owners underestimate their pet’s body condition compared to veterinary professionals.
In one recent study, pet owners who were independently shown how to determine a pet’s body condition still underestimated the level of excess weight in their own pets compared to the estimation of professionals. Unfortunately, veterinarians only score slightly better.
A survey of veterinary records indicated that veterinarians only diagnosed 2% of their patients as overweight despite assigning them body condition scores that indicated they were overweight. But even more frightening are the findings that although 32% of survey owners admitted that their pet was overweight, only 1% of that group thought it was a problem!
For most of medical and veterinary history, fat has always been assumed to be nothing more than a storage reservoir of energy that provided insulation from the cold. We now know fat is very active. In fact it is the largest hormone and hormone-like chemical producer in the body. Over 100 of these hormones and chemicals have been discovered in humans and over 35 have been identified in dogs and cats. These hormones are responsible for more harm than good.
Most of the hormones and other chemicals produced by fat that are released into the bloodstream promote inflammation. They tell the immune system to act like the body has an infection, despite the absence of any bacterial, viral or fungal invaders. This constant state of inflammation is like living with a fever 24/7/365!
Large numbers of studies have revealed associations of fat-induced, chronic inflammation with a long list of medical conditions. An increased risk of orthopedic problems (joint), respiratory conditions, certain types of heart muscle changes, kidney dysfunction, diabetes and other hormonal conditions, hypertension (high blood pressure) and certain types of cancer have all shown associations with a state of overweight or obesity. The good news is that even small amounts of weight loss in your pet will initiate a decrease in hormone production and decrease health risks.
As with all medical conditions, prevention is better and easier than treatment. This is especially the case with pet obesity. A 14-year study conducted by the Purina pet food company tracked litters of Golden Retrievers. They found that puppies that maintained a lean body condition throughout their lives lived almost 2 years longer than their overweight littermates. Prevention is all about a healthy lifestyle—this is no less true for pets as it is for us.
1) Use a smaller feed bowl to help avoid “topping-off”
2) Feed at the lower end of the food label feeding chart (Remember these are instruction for the entire day)
3) Measure with an actual measuring cup, not a Big Gulp cup, and avoid the guesstimate
4) When changing food, always consult the new food’s feeding chart (food brand calorie counts can vary by as much as 245/cup for dry food and 200/can for wet food)
5) Use fruits and vegetables as treats rather than commercial treats or human meats, cheese and pet cookies.
6) Treats should not exceed 10% of daily calorie allotment (consult your veterinarian for calorie needs)
7) Sexual altering, age and seasons affect calorie requirements and require downward adjustments
8) Exercise daily with your dog (must walk at least 16-minute miles to be effective)
9) Use interactive toys (feather toys, laser pointers, food balls) for cats
Breed weight standards are not a reliable way of estimate the fitness of pets. Many breeds exhibit genetic lines of different body builds. The breeding of dogs with very different body types (labradoodles, puggles, etc.) make ideal weight estimation extremely difficult. And of course the proverbial mutt of unknown genetics makes it even harder. The best way to identify ideal weight is using the present weight and the Body Condition Score or the BCS.
The BCS utilizes a visual grading of body fitness. By looking at a dog or cat from the side and from the top looking from tail to head it is possible to give a pet a numerical fitness score. There are presently two in use, the 5-point system and the 9-point system. The 9-point is the least subjective, is my favorite: Dog Chart and Cat Chart.
A BCS from 1-3 indicates an underweight animal. Scores of 4-5 are considered ideal. I prefer 4 (Score a 4 and live some more!). Scores from 6-9 indicate various states of overweight, with most experts agreeing that scores of 8 or more are pets suffering obesity.
By using the BCS in conjunction with the table below, a pet’s ideal weight can be estimated.
|9 Point scale||% Overweight|
Data: Courtesy of Dr. Angela Witzel, Univ. of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine
For example, a 100 pound dog with a BCS of 8 is 30% overweight. Its’ ideal weight is 70 pounds. Pets with a BCS greater than 9 make it very difficult to establish an ideal weight and is only a guess until dieting reduces the BCS to 9 and a reasonable estimate can be determined.
Part II will address how to help your pet reach his or her optimum BCS.
Visit Dr. Tudor online.