By Beth Davidow, DVM DACVECC
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
As the fall sets in, I always feel that I really want to eat more. The colder weather means we are inside, closer to the kitchen. I find I’m baking more and thinking about desserts for upcoming holidays. As we eat more, and spend more time in the kitchen, our furry companions tend to join us and they know just how to meet our eyes, do tricks and convince us, that they too need a little extra something yummy.
But just as extra pounds can be problematic for us, extra pounds can also be problematic for our pets. Because they are smaller than us, we sometimes don’t realize how much the percentage gain really is. While if we average 150 lbs and then went up to 200 lbs over the winter, we would probably be very concerned with our weight gain, we sometimes don’t bat an eye when our 15 lb cat suddenly becomes 20 lbs, a similar proportional gain.
Obesity is a huge problem for animals and has been an increasing problem. As in humans, obesity in our pets can lead to bone and joint problems, increased risk for certain cancers, increased heart and lung problems, increased urinary issues, and much increased risk for diabetes.
At our emergency hospital, one common life-threatening emergency in cats is urinary blockage. There are good studies that show that overweight cats are at a much higher risk for this condition than cats in good body condition. In small dogs, a large portion of the dogs with severe respiratory problems are also overweight. Many of these patients present on emergency needing oxygen and end up on many medications. If owners are successful in having these dogs lose weight, many end up requiring less medications over the long haul.
So why do dogs and cats become obese? In the vast majority of cases it is because caloric intake is in excess of the calories burned during the day. In a few cases, they have an underlying problem such as hypothyroidism but this is the exception not the rule. Thus, to keep thin, pets either need less calories or more exercise. As in people, often the culprit is not the meals but the in between meal snacks. Remember that if your 10 lb dog usually gets a ¼ cup of food twice a day, two large milk bones probably increased his calories by 10%.
This fall, try not to succumb to that cute little face cocking their head at you to share your muffin. Although extra treats may show them you love them in the short term, the consequence may be higher vet bills and more trips to the emergency room. Instead, pick up their leash, brave the rain, and take them for a walk. You will both be happier and healthier in the long run.