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Should your pet’s New Year’s Resolution be to lose weight? In the UK, almost 60% of dogs and 40% of cats are overweight, and figures are growing every year. Excess body fat can contribute to a variety of health problems due to the physical and metabolic impacts on the body.
Pets that are carrying excess body fat exert abnormal loading forces on their joints. This contributes to the development of inflammation in the joints (arthritis). Adipose, or fatty, tissue is also not an inert substance. It releases a large number of chemical messengers (cytokines) which circulate in the blood and lead to worsening inflammation. Weight loss can make a dramatic difference to the amount of pain that arthritic pets feel.
Overweight pets are also more prone to certain problems with the musculoskeletal system, including cruciate ligament rupture and intervertebral disc disease. Both of these conditions may require surgical treatment.
Overweight pets are more prone to urinary tract infections and the formation of bladder stones. Overweight male cats in particular are at increased risk of urinary obstruction due to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. This is when debris formed by bladder inflammation blocks the urethra, through which the bladder normally empties. If they are unable to urinate, affected pets are in very severe pain. They rapidly become extremely unwell from the build up of waste products that would normally pass in urine. A cat with a urethral obstruction requires emergency treatment to save his life.
Just like in humans, excessive body fat leads to insulin insenstivity. If this persists for long enough, diabetes mellitus can result. This means the body is no longer able to correctly process the energy released from digested food. Overweight dogs and especially overweight cats are at risk of developing diabetes. Treatment requires ongoing insulin injections for life to manage the condition.
Increasingly, brachycephalic dogs, cats and even rabbits are very popular pets worldwide. These animals can be at increased risk of breathing problems, because of excessive soft tissue in their airways. Accumulation of excessive subcutaneous fat, especially around the neck and chest, can markedly worsen this condition. Often, media representations of these animals are actually of very overweight individuals. This can make it more difficult to recognise whether your pug, French bulldog or English bulldog is actually overweight. Our trained staff are able to discuss with you whether weight loss is required to help manage any potential breathing problems in a brachycephalic pet.
How can we all help?
So, how can you help if your pet is overweight? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as cutting out a few treats and taking them on a longer walk (though obviously those things won’t hurt!). Dogs and cats are actually very efficient users of energy, so increasing exercise has little impact on their body weight. The most important change is reducing their calorie intake. We can help you to achieve that without your pet feeling excessively hungry or missing out on vital nutrients.
Some helpful strategies can include: