“New Year, New you!"
Who has never heard that saying? How many of us resolve to quit smoking, get more sleep, exercise more, lose weight or get healthy as our New Year’s resolutions? In fact, losing weight is probably the #1 resolution year after year. Obesity in people is a huge health issue and can contribute to many other health concerns for those with a BMI over 30 (BMI is an objective calculation in people based on weight vs height). In dogs and cats the definition is a little more challenging since there is so much variation in size and body condition. - think chihuahua vs English Mastiff. In animals we use the body condition scoring (BCS) system which is either based on a scale of 1-5 or 1-9, with a BCS of one indicating severe emaciation whereas a BCS of 5 (or 9) indicates severe obesity.
So this begs the question of “How can I tell if my pet is overweight at home?”
A 60 pound greyhound may be lean and have a BCS of 4, where a 60 pound beagle would likely have a BCS of 8 or 9 and would most definitely be on the road to a multitude of health issues as a result. An adult male Maine Coon cat may weigh up to 18 pounds and be considered healthy. An 18 pound Siamese would probably be considered obese.
As a quick check, you should be able to feel your dog or cat’s ribs with minimal pressure along their sides but they shouldn’t protrude. Of course there are exceptions, such as sighthounds, which tend to be very lean and often have visible ribs and other bony prominences (like shoulders or hips). You should also be able to find the shoulder blades and feel the bones of the spine. If you can’t find them then it looks like Rover or Fluffy may need to drop a few pounds.
“But they beg and gives me the sad puppy eyes and I just can’t say no!”
We’ve heard it all in veterinary medicine, but the honest truth is that if Rover is overweight, it could shorten his life and contribute to issues such as heart disease, respiratory issues, arthritis and, especially in cats, diabetes. Sometimes as pet parents we have to make tough decisions that in the long run are in the best interest of our pets. Getting rid of those extra pounds before those issues begin will improve their quality of life as they age, and, in turn give us more enjoyable time with them. Does anyone really want to have to give arthritis meds or insulin to our pet every day if there’s any way to avoid it?
Of course maintaining an ideal body condition score doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have to face these issues but we can definitely minimize those risks. Limiting treats and “people” food are great ways to cut calories! Many treats are high in calories, fats and sugars and can be equivalent to a couple of Oreos. Your veterinary staff can offer lower calorie alternatives when Rover or Fluffy have a snack attack.
“How do we get the weight off without starving them”?
In order to lose weight we have to expend more calories than we take in. Of course it sounds really easy when you say it like that, but weight loss can be a big challenge. Issues such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease and arthritis can make weight loss even more challenging for our furry friends. We can cut calories and exercise and sometimes the scale is very slow to respond to our efforts. Luckily, there are prescription weight loss diets for both dogs and cats that are nutritionally balanced to provide the correct balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates so their bodies can lose the weight and maintain muscle mass.
Exercise can be a challenge especially for those dogs and cats with other health issues such as arthritis or heart disease. As with humans, when embarking on an exercise program to help your furry family member shed those extra pounds you should consult with your veterinarian. Pets can be out of shape just like people so starting slow and working up as their stamina improves is usually the best approach. These guys can develop muscle soreness and experience “weekend warrior syndrome” just like people can. Imagine being sedentary all winter and then going for a 10 mile hike on the first warm weekend in the spring - imagine how sore you’d be! Water treadmill therapy can be especially helpful for dogs with arthritis since the buoyancy of the water can provide support and help aid in strengthening both the musculoskeletal system as well as the cardiovascular system.
There are a lot of options out there to help your pet and we are very pleased to announce our newest program! Clemmons Animal Rehab and Therapy is starting a new weight loss program to help your pet be the healthiest they can be this year. If you have questions or want more information about how to sign up please contact us at 336-778-2738 or by email at email@example.com.