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OBESITY IN CATS AND DOGS
- Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder of dogs and cats.
- Obesity and periodontal disease are the two most common health problems of dogs and cats.
- When moderate or severe, obesity is a seriously disabling medical condition that negatively affects the patient's health in a large variety of ways.
- Perhaps of most importance, obesity creates and provokes inflammation in every body system. It causes and contributes to arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, dental disease, liver disease, and probably every other problem involving inflammation.
- A condition where the patient is eating more calories than necessary and has accumulated more body fat than normal, predisposing to and resulting in multiple serious negative health consequences.
- Obesity is sometimes defined as body weight 20% or more above normal due to excess body fat.
- Lean animals have 15-25% body fat.
- Obesity is sometimes characterized as a level of body condition, with proportion of body fat 25% to 34% considered overweight and 35% or greater considered obese.
HOW BODY FAT ACCUMULATES EXCESSIVELY
- Excessive accumulation of body fat occurs due to the complex interplay of a large number of factors; the three most important factors are:
- Overeating (ie, overfeeding by the owner)
- Low amounts of exercise
- Low metabolic rate (ie, energy level)
- Research is revealing increasing importance of genetic factors in the development of obesity.
COMMON FACTORS THAT INCREASE THE RISK FOR OBESITY
- High fat diet
- Inactive lifestyle
- Neutering, especially male cats and female dogs
EFFECTS OF NEUTERING (MALES AND FEMALES)
- Neutering decreases the daily energy requirements of cats by 24% to 33%.
- Similar reduced energy requirements have been noted for dogs.
- Reduced energy requirements are due to decreased metabolic rate and increased appetite.
- Because energy needs decrease following neutering, the amount fed must decrease following neutering (by 20 to 25%) or obesity will develop.
IDEAL BODY WEIGHT
- Identifying the pet's ideal body weight early in life is very important, because it allows acceptable weight boundaries to be set for the remainder of the pet's life.
- Knowing the ideal body weight also allows calculation for daily calorie / energy requirements.
- The ideal body weight is best identified by the owner and the veterinarian working together.
CALCULATING THE DAILY ENERGY REQUIREMENT (CALORIES)
- There are several established formulas for calculating daily caloric need.
- No formula will work perfectly for every patient.
- All calculations should serve as a starting point only; the patient's nutrition is best managed by the owner working with the veterinarian (NOT the Internet, the person at the pet store, the pet food company, the breeder, or the owner's friends and family).
- One formula that works well for most dogs and cats is
Resting Energy Requirements (RER) (in calories) = 70 x ideal weight (in kilograms)^.75
Maintenance Energy Requirements (MER) = RER x 1.2 for lean housecats
MER = RER x 1.5 for low-to-moderate activity dogs
- When used at all, should make up no more than 10% of the daily caloric intake.
- Should be nutritionally sound: hand-fed regular diet and low calorie foods are two options.
- The food itself:
- Cats eat more calories when fed dry food compared to canned food.
- Cats fed a single flavor of high-moisture canned food tend to be more satisfied.
- Dogs have increased appetite when fed canned food.
- Dogs are bulk feeders and may feel more satisfied when fed high fiber foods.
- Food ingredients that increase bulk (fiber and water) may help control caloric intake.
- Higher protein / lower carbohydrate foods tend to make dogs and cats more satisfied, BUT:
- The smaller portion size with low-carb foods increases begging by some patients.
- The relatively high fat content of low-carb foods triggers weight gain by some pets.
- Counting calories:
- Owners tend to feed larger portions when they use relatively larger scoops and bowls.
- Measuring cups do not work as well at limiting portions as a kitchen scale does.
- Multiple pets:
- Competition increases the calorie consumption of pets that are dominant around the food bowl.
- Unsupervised feeding of multiple pets allows the dominant ones to consume excess calories.
- Regular exercise provides multiple weight-related benefits:
- Increased energy expenditure
- Builds and maintains muscle
- Decreases boredom-related eating
- Ways of increasing exercise or maintaining a high level of exercise include:
- Scheduling exercise
- Providing enrichment toys
- Devised methods of food-seeking during feeding
- Increased exercise can help a pet lose weight, but it will never cause a pet to lose weight all by itself. The pet must eat significantly fewer calories to lose weight.
- Achieving an ideal lean body weight is, of course, ideal. But overweight pets experience great benefits from very small amounts of weight loss.
Yarmouth Veterinary Center, 2014
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