Pet Obesity - Part 3
Most of us would equate obesity with overeating, but this is only partially true. In reality, it is an imbalance of too much food with too little exercise, or when the amount of calories consumed exceeds those that are expended over a lengthy period of time, commonly known by nutritionists as "a positive energy balance". A good example of this is the Olympic swimmer and gold-medalist, Michael Phelps, who during his heavy training consumes roughly 5 - 6 times or more calories than the average adult, yet remains extremely lean. However, if he continued to eat this much without his rigorous training, he would eventually become morbidly obese. On the other hand, when weight loss is our goal, a negative energy balance is required. If Phelps didn't consume such a large amount of food during his training season, his body would eventually waste away to the point of emaciation.
Regarding our pets, whether they are lapdogs who enjoy an occasional walk, housecats who prefer to lay in the sun, or canine athletes competing at a high level, a balance between the amount of energy (calories) consumed and energy expended or burned is critical to maintain a normal BCS (body condition score) and good health. When we encounter weight problems with our pets, the positive energy balance created as a result of their overeating or lack of exercise can usually be blamed on us, their owners. Most often, it is a result of feeding them free-choice or by not measuring the amount of food placed in the bowl, allowing the pet to eat from other pets' food bowls, feeding calorie dense foods to sedentary pets, feeding table scraps, or giving too many treats. Inadequate exercise becomes a greater factor with our indoor or kenneled pets, our already overweight pets, or our older, injured and/or arthritic pets.
Beyond these two primary factors, obesity can also be affected by several other risk factors, some of which are beyond our control. These include: hormonal imbalances such as Hypothyroidism; genetic predispositions of certain breeds known to have body weight issues (Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Sheltie, Terrier, Beagle, Basset Hound and Labrador and Golden Retriever); whether the pet is neutered or spayed can also impact weight control, similar to the middle age or older pet, as these pets have a slightly decreased metabolism and therefore will require less food intake; and finally, behavioral related problems usually created by owners that are constantly conditioning the pet into thinking that food or treats equals "love". Unfortunately, this is one of the most common causes of chronic obesity and the most difficult to control; because overtime, it becomes extremely difficult to break them of the constant begging or "sad eyes" look that results. Except for Hypothyroidism, these other factors can be easily controlled simply by feeding an appropriate amount of food and gradually increasing their exercise. Hypothyroidism can easily be overlooked in otherwise normal appearing patients. However, when diagnosed with a blood test, it can be easily corrected with an appropriate replacement hormone therapy; and once controlled, these pets will also respond to a properly managed weight loss program.
In the next article, I will discuss the four most common excuses veterinarians hear from the owners of overweight pets.