Special Feature

The big issue

Posted on January 27, 2017

Over the years, the scope of health threats posed by obesity has become much wider that it does not just concern humans but their furry, four-legged companions as well.

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Results of the 2015 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey revealed that an estimated 41.9 million dogs in the United States, comprising 53.8% of the country’s total dog population, were overweight or obese. The study also found that there were approximately 49.9 million, equivalent to 58.2%, overweight or obese cats in the US.

“For the past seven years, our surveys have seen the percentage of clinically obese dogs and cats outpace those that need to lose a couple of pounds. Not only are we seeing more fat pets, we’re seeing fatter and fatter pets. An 18-pound cat is at greater risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure than one that is a pound or two overweight,” said Dr. Julie Churchill, a veterinary nutritionist from University of Minnesota and a board member of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), on APOP’s Web site. Composed of veterinary practitioners, surgeons, internal medicine specialists, and nutritionists, APOP is an organization that documents pet obesity prevalence levels in the US to better equip veterinarians and pet owners with the right resources and tools to fight pet obesity.

In the Philippines, pet obesity is also fast becoming an important concern, prompting various animal welfare organizations to conduct pet health and wellness campaigns.

Weighing pets down

PetMD.com, an online portal that provides pet health-related literature, says that many pet owners only notice that their dog or cat has been packing on the pounds once it begins showing signs of slowing down. The pet’s physical changes are oftentimes observed by its regular groomer or veterinarian, too. While this is so, PetMD suggests one way so that pet parents themselves get to check on their pets.

“Feel around its midsection while your pet is standing. The ribs and spine should be easy to feel, and on most pets there should be a tucked in, or slight hourglass shape to the waist. If you cannot easily feel your dog or cat’s ribs or spine, and the tucked-in waist has thickened considerably enough to give the animal a more tubular shape, it is time for you to consult with your veterinarian about a weight loss regimen for your pet.”

A pound or two of additional fat on some dogs and cats, it says, can cause significant stress on their body, adding that this can result in exercise and heat intolerance, difficulty in breathing, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver dysfunction, osteoarthritis, weak immune system, and increased risk of anesthetic and developing malignant tumors. APOP says that the primary risks of excess weight in pets also include decreased life expectancy for up to two and a half years.

There are several factors that make obesity more likely in pets, such as dogs, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals. These are breed, age, neuter status, sex, and the owner himself.

“Overweight people are more likely to have overweight dogs,” said Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer and author of Fat Dog Slim: How to Have a Healthy, Happy Pet. “An overweight dog shows real negligence by the owner. There’s pressure on the bones and the heart and the organs. It’s just not pleasant,” she said.

“If a dog doesn’t get enough exercise behavior problems such as anxiety, chewing, destruction, excessive barking, house soiling, can occur,” Ms. Stilwell added.

Dr. Ken Tudor, in his article “Why Are Some Dog Breeds More Prone to Obesity?” posted on www.petmd.com, however, contends that the socioeconomic status of the pet owner likewise poses a risk.

“Pet pampering is much easier with increased wealth. The owner’s lifestyle and own body condition are other non-pet related risk factors,” he wrote.

The way to go

PetMD says that putting an overweight pet on a diet is the “most loving thing” a pet owner can do.

“This is the only way to ensure that your pet will have the best opportunity for a life that is full of activity and good health. Besides, there are lots of healthy treats available, and lots of loving gestures you can share with your pet without worrying about them leading to weight gain.”

It is also necessary to talk to the veterinarian to get a list of low-calorie, high-fiber foods as well as an exercise program that will truly work on the obese pet based on its age, weight, and breed.