July 6, 2008

Obesity Harms Pets As Much As Humans

By Lydia Gehring

Obesity ... We all complain about it, but very few of us like to do anything about it. The endless diet options, television ads for the latest weight loss pills, the newest fitness machines, and even pulsating belly bands that claim to shed the pounds. Obesity is an epidemic in our American culture. But it's not just in people. Our pets are also suffering from the effects of obesity. The American pet owner is literally killing their pet with kindness.

Who would ever have thought that there would be a pet supermarket in every city across this country, let alone two large chains in Wooster. The food and treat options in these stores are mind boggling. Also, consumers today practically need advanced college courses in nutrition to read and understand the ingredient labels.

The detrimental health effects of obesity in pets are similar to humans. Dogs and cats both are at risk of diabetes, which is more prevalent than ever before. In addition, diabetes in pets is becoming more of a challenge to treat. Our arsenal of effective insulin is dwindling as the manufacturers of the products follow the human health needs, leaving veterinarians with few products to choose from.

Obese dogs are at great risk of degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) and hip dysplasia due to the extra load on the joints. I have seen a marked increase in ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee joint of overweight dogs. Overweight cats tend to deposit much of their fat cells into the liver, causing a life- threatening condition known as hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome.

So how do you keep your four-legged friend trim? I like to think of the body's metabolism as a see-saw where the calories going into the body as food have to match the calories going out, in the form of activity and exercise, in order for the see-saw to be balanced. Obviously with more calories going in than what is being expended during activity, leads to weight gain, or a tip of the see-saw in the wrong direction.

In most cases of obesity that I see, the owner of the pet is at fault in offering, often unknowingly, high fat or high calorie foods and treats. As a veterinarian, my goal is not to eliminate treats or rewards from a pet's routine. However, the type of treat or contents of the food are vitally important. Many of the "low fat" or "light" foods sold in the pet stores are low in fat, however they have higher protein or carbohydrate levels for example, therefore the total calories consumed by the pet may not be lower than foods that aren't considered "light."

In addition, a lot of treats are loaded with sugars or sprayed with fats to increase their acceptance by the pet. Your veterinarian is the best source for nutritional recommendations for your pet. There are numerous low-calorie, low-fat foods offered through a veterinary hospital, such as Hills R/D or Eukanuba's Restricted Calorie food. These prescription foods are far lower in total calories than any of the foods found in the stores; however, the appropriate food should be selected by your veterinarian with your pet's weight loss goals in minds. In addition, we carry several low- calorie biscuits and treats that are often several hundred calories less per biscuit than a pet store brand.

And its hard to believe that obesity in pets has reached such epidemic proportions that a pharmaceutical company has felt it was economically feasible to develop a weight loss medication. The FDA just recently approved Slentrol, a once daily oral medication made by Pfizer, for use in dogs. This should help veterinarians and pet owners as our society looks for the easy way to shed pounds.

If your pet has lost its girlish figure, is too overweight to get up and greet you, or is starting to look more like a beach ball than a Labrador retriever, then I encourage you to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. Ask him or her to develop a diet and exercise plan that fits with your pet's medical history. Get the see-saw tilting the other direction. Your pet's life depends upon it.