Obesity and Canine Rehabilitation Part 1

Pets that are at an ideal body condition helps promote a leaner, longer, healthier life. It also reduces potential for developing weight-related health conditions. Helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, healthy blood pressure and heart rate. The ideal body weight is considered where the ribs are palpable, but not visible, slight waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above, and abdomen tucked up, flank fold present. Obese is defined as being 30% above normal weight.

Below are some reasons why pets are obese/ overweight. One of the reasons, which I am guilty of, is leaving out full bowls of food for pets to graze. By doing this just ten extra kibbles of a typical dry cat food could add up to one pound of weight gain annually. When measuring the amount of food being given be sure to use an actual measuring cup not a coffee cup. This can lead to over feeding or under feeding if not sure of the amounts given. The graph on the side of the food bag is just a guideline. You want to be sure you are feeding the amount for the weight the pet should be at not the weight they are at unless it is their ideal weight. A couple of basic reasons that carry a role in pet obesity is children at home sharing their food, genetics (obese prone breeds), and not taking into account the calorie amount when it comes to treat giving. The last reason is possibly slow metabolism which could be genetic as mentioned earlier or it might be the result of a disease such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

There are some health problems that can occur from patients being obese/ overweight also. With arthritis the over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae. This extra stress leads to the progression of joint degeneration and creates more pain. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity. Respiratory compromise is a large problem because the obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming a constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing results. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss. Diabetes Mellitus is caused by extra body fat leading to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. Hepatic Lipidosis is when an overweight cat goes off food or partially off food because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat’s liver was not designed to process a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails. A study of age-matched Labrador retrievers found that dogs kept on the slender side of normal lived an average of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts. If a pet should develop a condition where a therapeutic diet is of great benefit, the pet that has been maintained primarily on a diet of table scraps may be unwilling to accept commercial pet food of any kind, much less a food modified to be beneficial for a specific disease process. Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because the drug dosing becomes less accurate. Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging. Also, surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the slippery nature of the extra fat as well as difficulty visualizing all the normal structures through the copious fat deposit. Overweight cats can even develop skin problems from not being able to groom themselves properly.

With these four steps we can solve the problem with obese/ overweight pets. Step 1: Veterinarian Visit – you’ll want to make sure your pet doesn’t have any problems that might make lifestyle changes difficult or dangerous. Step 2: Carve some time out of your schedule to walk your dog or play with your cat 3 times a week at least. Be sure to work in some aerobic exercise, anything that gets a cat or dog running. For dogs, 20-30 minute brisk walking or play time is recommended. With cats, try several short bursts 5-15 minutes of activity chasing toys or a laser pointer. Hiding food will trigger a cat’s natural hunting instinct. Also Canine Rehabilitation is an option for those that have those busy schedules and need a personal trainer for their canine companion (will be discussed further in Part 3). Step 3: Calculate calories – check with your vet for proper amount, any food given extra from meal time adds in as well, including treats. Step 4: Measure meals – don’t just fill the bowl. Try small high-protein, low carbohydrate meals 2-3 times daily. Look for low-calorie, no sugar treats or substitute vegetables and fruits, such as sliced carrots and apples for dogs, or salmon flakes for cats.




“When Man’s Best Friend Is Obese”, by Gwendolyn Bounds, the Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2011


Why People Yum-yums are Pet No-nos



Did you over-indulge a bit over the holidays like I did?  How about your pet?  I imagine a few of us are guilty of eating too much delicious holiday junk food and SOME of us who will remain unnamed also fed a little to our dogs and cats.  There’s one table feeder in every family; sometimes it’s the 3-year-old but more often it’s the mother-in-law or the husband, and I see accusing fingers fly when I ask who’s to blame.  Then we all laugh about it.  No judgment here, I just can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on!

While I admit to problems disciplining myself to eat perfectly, I don’t have any issues with ignoring big brown eyes staring up at me from beneath my dining chair.  (Do as I say, not as I do?) Maybe it sounds harsh, but ideally we should feed no table food to our pets.  Why shouldn’t we show them we love them by giving tasty leftovers?  Because too much of the good stuff or even a little of the wrong stuff is bad for them!  Here are some examples of problems caused by table food:


1. Obesity.  Did you know that about 50% of dogs and cats in this country are overweight or obese, but only about 25% of those animals’ owners recognize this?  Excess body weight contributes to a shorter lifespan due to increased risk of diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and respiratory disease.  You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily, but not see them.  If there’s a layer of fat padding, well, he’s overweight.  Fun facts:

For a 10 pound cat, 1 potato chip is equivalent to a person eating ½ of a hamburger.

For a 20 pound dog, 1 hot dog is like a person eating 3 hamburgers or 2 chocolate bars.  Just 1 small oatmeal cookie is equivalent to a person’s hamburger.

What seems like a snack can actually be more like an extra meal!  If you really MUST feed table food, consider carrots, green beans, apple chunks.


2. Toxicity/illness.  It’s getting to be common knowledge that chocolate, raisins and grapes, onions, and xylitol (in some sugar-free gums and baked goods) are toxic to pets.  However, many people don’t know that fatty foods such as bacon, gravy, and sausage can cause pancreatitis, a serious medical condition that requires hospitalization.

3. Gastrointestinal upset.  Some pets have sensitive stomachs, and eating table foods can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea.  I’ve also seen some awful constipation cases after dogs have eaten bones, both cooked and raw, creating bone splinters in the feces.  Ouch!

4. Incomplete nutrition.  Treats should make up less than 10% of a pet’s total diet.  In some of our client families, table food makes up more like 100% of the diet.  My concern with this practice, besides potential for obesity, is that pets are not getting the right balance of nutrients.  For example, cats eating only tuna don’t get
needed taurine, and dogs eating only chicken don’t receive enough vitamins and minerals.

If your dog “refuses to eat his food”, you can try adding low-salt broth for flavor or a small amount of oregano.  Cats like food that’s been warmed slightly and to eat from a wide, shallow bowl allowing for whisker room.

How will my pet know I love her if I don’t feed her from the table?  I recommend small dog or cat treats, breaking them into pieces if they’re large to begin with.  People look at me like I’m nuts when I say this, but fill a treat jar with the pet’s regular kibble and offer a piece with lavish attention.  Take your dog for a walk.  Give your cat five minutes of undivided attention and playtime.  Maybe I’ll take my own advice, get my dogs out for a walk, and step away from the cookie jar right now.



Robin Lake, DVM

Foster Animal Hospital




Thanks to Hill’s Science Diet for the statistics, and my research assistant Keisha Medrano