We all love our pets dearly and giving them treats and extra food they enjoy makes us feel happy that we are pleasing them but are we killing our pets with kindness?
A study undertaken by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association in 2014 showed that an estimated 45% of dogs, 40% of cats and 30% of rabbits in the UK are obese. Since then, other reports have suggested that these figures have risen even further!
This can mean an increased risk of various diseases for our pets such as Hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes as well as increased strain on our pets cardiovascular and respiratory systems. An overweight animal is also prone to issues such as osteoarthritis and potential cruciate ligament rupture which is only made worse by carrying extra, unnecessary weight.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, which needs to be controlled with supplements and medications so animals that are affected have to live with this condition. Hips, stifles (knee joint) and elbows are the joints usually most affected as they bare the most weight of the animal, but OA can happen in any joint. Being overweight or obese means there is more body fat, so not only increasing weight and pressure is being put on to the animals joints it also increases proimflammatory mediators within the body. These can contribute to existing inflammatory conditions likes OA so can increase discomfort for our pets.
Within the veterinary sector it is suggested that when a patient’s weight is over 15% normal for its breed – it is classed as overweight. If the animal is over 30% normal weights then they are classed as obese.
I feel in my day-to-day work in veterinary practice I see a large number of patients that are overweight and we have many who are obese. As a veterinary nurse, I have huge concerns for these animals not only for the risks I mentioned above but also the anaesthetic risk that dramatically increases with obesity.
During anaesthesia for overweight and obese animals there is more pressure on the animal’s cardiovascular system, as the heart has to work harder to enable sufficient blood flow to all the vital organs. If you think about the hearts performance in relation to the animals size, if your pet is twice it’s normal body weight, the heart has to work twice as hard to pump the blood around the body. This puts incredible strain on the heart. Drug metabolism is also affected, as perfusion to fatty tissues is poor. Ventilation is also likely to be poor in obese patients during anaesthesia especially if the animal has to be on their back for the procedure, the weight of the animal puts more pressure onto the lungs making it harder to breathe effectively.
As I mentioned before, fat cells within the body produce substances that have inflammatory effects on the tissues in the body, which also makes metabolic disorders more likely. The risk of cancer is also higher in obese animals. Obese cats are more prone to hepatic lipodosis (fatty liver), which can lead to further liver dysfunction, endocrine diseases (this is the system that secrete hormones and other products directly into the blood stream) and skin problems. Obese cats cannot groom themselves as effectively as they are too large to be able to turn around to clean their fur, so their coat can become greasy and unkempt.
So, how can we help?
We run FREE weight clinics at all our surgeries – these are run by our lovely Registered Veterinary Nurses (RVN’s) who are there to offer support, advice and encouragement to work out the best way to help you, help your pets get to a healthy weight!
The first step is to acknowledge that your pet is overweight, as I said at the beginning of this blog obesity often occurs due to misplaced kindness to your pet! If you feel your pet may be overweight then speak to one of the RVN’s or vets and book in for a weight consultation.
What happens at a weight clinic?
First, we have a friendly chat about your pets feeding habits and routine. We prefer complete honesty (we won’t tell you off!) so we can work out the best way to help your pet.
We then check the size and shape of your animal such as taking measurements, along side scoring systems such as Body condition score (BCS) and Body fat index (BFI) which we use to assess and calculate current weight and target weight. We also work out a safe target weight loss for each week.
We may suggest trying a weight loss food, as these have been very effective to help aid weight loss but also help with satiety making the transition easier for your beloved furry friend.
We normally book you in for another appointment two weeks later for a weigh in and a quick chat on how you are getting on.
You’ll go home with all the information you will need, knowing that you are helping your pet take the road to a healthier future! As I always tell my clients, we are only a phone call away if you have any worries or questions.
If you are concerned your pet is overweight but you are not sure, please contact the surgery and speak to one of the nurses to organise a check-up.
Written by Laura Powell (Registered Veterinary Nurse)