Pet Obesity: A National Epidemic
In 2017, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are overweight or obese. Previously, the Banfield Pet Hospital demonstrated a link between pet obesity and illness. Their report from 2012 analyzed data from > 2 million dogs, finding:
- 42% of diabetic, 40% of arthritic, and 61% of hypothyroid dogs are overweight.
- > 40% of dogs with high blood pressure are overweight.
- Overweight dogs are at increased risk for numerous diseases and live an average 2 years less than those of ideal weight.
Obvious signs of being overweight are: large body relative to the legs; excess fat around neck and underside of belly; round appearance, especially when viewed from above; decreased activity level; difficulty rising or climbing stairs; and excessive panting during activity.
Human Obesity = Pet Obesity
A parallel exists between the spike in obesity in people and companion animals. This relates to their similar environmental and lifestyle changes. Calorie restriction lengthens lifespan by increasing the dietary activators of proteins that regulate metabolism and lifespan, such as resveratrol and other polyphenols (green and black tea, grape seed extract).
Obesity is an increased risk for:
- Cardiorespiratory diseases, airway obstruction in brachycephalic breeds, and laryngeal paralysis.
- Endocrine disorders, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) and hypothyroidism.
- Functional alterations, like decreased respiratory capacity, exercise intolerance, heat intolerance/stroke and decreased immune functions.
- Metabolic abnormalities, like hyperlipidemia and dyslipidemia.
- Neoplasia, including transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder.
- Orthopedic disorders, like osteoarthritis, anterior cruciate ligament rupture and intervertebral disk disease.
- Urogenital system conditions, including transitional cell carcinoma of bladder.
Chronic Inflammation and Weight Gain
Acute inflammation serves a purpose, whereas chronic inflammation leads to a variety of diseases. Thus, we need to screen overweight pets for possible underlying health conditions that could be at fault. Since inflammation generates obesity, a key step in achieving weight loss is to feed fat-fighting anti-inflammatory foods, while removing pro-inflammatory foods. Remember that food intolerances/sensitivities can lead to weight gain as they cause inflammation.
Functional Foods to Reduce Fat
- Fat-fighting functional foods include high quality, bioavailable and novel proteins; virgin coconut oil; omega-3 fatty acids from fish or plant-based oils; L-carnitine; white kidney bean extract, and the antiangiogenic foods that starve cancer cells (e.g. apples, artichokes, berries but not strawberries, cherries, ginseng, kale, parsley, medicinal mushrooms, pumpkin, and turmeric).
- Commercial weight-loss foods are less than ideal. They typically contain unhealthy carbohydrates, pro-inflammatory ingredients and insufficient high quality animal protein.
- Opt instead for fresh, wholesome foods to promote healthy gene expression, maintain lean body mass, and optimum health.
- Shedding extra pounds will reduce weight-related inflammation, and avoid chronic disease.
Feeding for Weight Loss
Weight loss of 3-5% of body weight per month is safe.
Feed 100% of the Resting Energy Requirements (RER) = daily amount of kcals the body needs to perform resting and basic metabolic functions.
Formula to calculate RER in animals weighing 2-45 kg (5-99 pounds):
- Step 1 Determine ideal weight in kilograms (kg)
- Step 2 Determine RER based on this ideal weight
RER (kcal/day) = 30 (ideal body weight in kg) + 70.
Once at ideal weight, the amount to feed to maintain that weight = Maintenance Energy Requirement (MER).
To calculate MER, use daily activity energy requirements:
- Weight loss 1.0 x RER
- Neutered adult, normal activity 1.6 x RER
- Intact adult normal activity 1.8 x RER
- Light work or play 2.0 x RER
- Moderate work or play 3.0 x RER
- Heavy work or play (e.g., agility dog) 4 to 8 x RER
- Pregnant dog (first 42 days) 1.8 x RER
- Pregnant dog (last 21 days) 3.0 x RER
- Lactating dam 4 to 8 x RER
- Puppy, weaning to 4 months 3.0 x RER
- Puppy, 4 months to adult size 2.0 x RER
- Geriatric dog 1.4 x RER
Dogs are more individualized than people for determining the daily MER. Many factors affect MER, including breed, age, health status, lifestyle and even thickness of coat.
Special Considerations for Senior Dogs
Senior dogs are naturally at the opposite end of the activity spectrum from puppies. Like adults, senior dogs are in a maintenance phase; however, they are generally less active and have slower metabolisms. To avoid excess weight gain, their energy intake should be adjusted to match their activity level. While each senior dog is unique, a dog’s energy needs generally decline as he ages. Dogs older than 8 years consume about 18% fewer calories than dogs under 6 years of the same breed type.
Functional foods for senior dogs
Older dogs have a decreased ability to fight disease, creating the potential for health problems ranging from infections to cancer. For example, genetic differences have been identified that determine which geriatric dogs will get kidney disease and which ones will remain healthy.
In addition to the fat -fighting functional foods listed above, recommended foods for seniors are:
Bananas; beans; beets; fish (low mercury, sardines); pomegranates; raw honey (not pasteurized; and yogurt (from goat or sheep’s milk).
The Body Condition Score (BCS)
All pet caregivers should regularly examine their dogs every 2-4 weeks:
- Observe the dog from the side and above.
- Palpate shoulder blades, spine, ribs, hips and belly to feel the amount of overlying fat.
- BCS is based on either a 5-point or 9-point scale; the middle number (3 out of 5 or 5 out of 9) reflects optimal body condition (15-25% body fat).
- Lower numbers reflect degrees of “under-condition”; higher numbers reflect degrees of “over-condition”.
- A score of 5 of 5 or 9 of 9 indicates > 35% body fat, which means an obese dog.
* Excerpted from: “Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health”. W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Diana R. Laverdure, 2015; DogWise, Wenatchee, WA. 315 pp.
Image credit: Association of Pet Obesity Prevention