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Health Implications Associated with Pet Obesity

Published October 14, 2012 in Dr Peto Says, What's New |
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Obesity is a huge problem in both our animal companions and humans.

Fur parents are actually creating nutritional imbalances in their animal companions by feeding excessive amounts of so called “nutritionally complete” and “balanced” foods and treats. Creating nutritionally complete and balanced foodstuff is virtually impossible and consumption of a calorie surplus ultimately creates an unhealthy state.

Let us delve further into the pet health problems to which being overweight or obese contributes.

Musculoskeletal System Abnormalities

Carrying extra weight stresses the musculoskeletal system (joints, ligaments, muscles tendons, etc.), which damages normal tissues and creates inflammation. Arthritis is joint inflammation which, when left unresolved, can lead to degenerative joint disease (DJD), permanent alterations in the cartilage surfaces.

Additionally, overweight companions are more prone to torn ligaments (including cranial cruciate ligament rupture) and intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), where the disks that cushion the backbone malfunction and can even pinch on the spine or nerves.

Endocrine Imbalance

The endocrine system is a complicated network of glands and hormones that regulate the body’s ability to manage normal functions (digestion, immune system response, metabolism, water balance, etc.). Two of the most common endocrine diseases diagnosed in companion animals that are associated with obesity are diabetes and hypothyroidism.

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or release it in sufficient quantities to appropriately regulate blood sugar. Hypothyroidism is an under functioning thyroid gland, which causes metabolism to slow down and leads to a variety of undesirable secondary conditions (weight gain, skin problems, high blood cholesterol, anemia, etc.).

With both diabetes in cats and hypothyroidism in dogs, obesity increases the likelihood that these conditions will occur.

Cardiovascular Disease

The cardiovascular system is comprised of the heart and blood vessels (arteries and veins). Having to supply and drain blood from tissue beyond what the body is structurally prepared for causes the cardiovascular system’s components to work harder at circulating oxygen, nutrients, and white blood cells, while also removing toxins.

Ultimately, high blood pressure, lack of circulation to body parts far away from the heart, and heart failure can result from of being overweight or obese.

Dermatologic Abnormalities

Excess flesh can create skin folds. Moisture accumulates between skin folds, which leads to inflammation (dermatitis) and fosters a climate appropriate for the growth of microorganisms (yeast, bacteria, etc.).

Additionally, overweight or obese companions face more of a challenge grooming themselves to maintain a cleaner state of their skin or coat than animals at healthy weight.


Being overweight or obese has a well documented correlation with canine bladder and mammary cancer. The inflammation generated by carrying too much weight promotes an internal environment that is friendly to the development of cancer.

Additionally, diets rich in omega 6 fatty acids (such as animal-based fats) promote inflammation and have been linked to cancer cell growth.

The good news is that obesity is completely preventable. To start, fur parents should restrict the portions our canine and feline companions consume at each meal by 25-33 percent (one quarter to one third).

Additionally, we need to consider the inherent nutrient value in feeding our companions a whole-food based diet instead of commercially available processed diets.

Thirdly, we must shift our focus from giving food as a reward to instead providing praise, socialization, activity, and environmental enrichment.

Can Dieting Make Our Animal Companions Fat?

Published July 24, 2012 in Dr Peto Says, Monthly Care Tips, What's New |
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A recent study in humans demonstrated that frequent episodes of intentional weight loss can actually make individuals more prone to weight gain.

Similar studies have not been conducted in animals. Because metabolic adaptations to calorie restriction appear to be universal from species to species, it is probably safe to assume that our animal companions would also be prone to weight gain with frequent bouts of weight loss.

A sustained commitment to a lifestyle change rather than the short term “yo-yo” effect of on-again, off-again dieting is probably a healthier strategy for us and our companions.

The Study

Researchers in Finland compared weight gain patterns for 2,000 sets of twins. Twins were chosen to decrease the genetic variability of metabolism and behaviour between individuals.

Subjects with a history of two or more episodes of dieting progressively gained more weight than their non-dieting co-twin over 25 years than those subjects that only dieted once compared to their non-dieting co-twin over the same time period. The researchers concluded that the diet itself promoted weight gain independent of genetics. Other research supports their claim.

Supporting Research

Studies have shown that calorie restriction or dieting promotes metabolic changes in the body to resist further weight loss. Immediate hormonal changes that occur with the feeling of hunger signals the portion of the brain that controls the thyroid gland to decrease the production of the hormone, thyroxine.

Blood levels of thyroxine determine the rate of cellular activity in the body. As thyroxine levels fall in the bloodstream, cellular activity slows and fewer calories are needed to sustain resting metabolism.

Hormonal changes also affect the active or non-resting metabolic rate of muscle and fat cells.

Dieting muscle requires less energy to perform the same task it did prior to dieting. Fat cells become resistant to breakdown for energy. In fact, the body shifts to promote fat production. Dieting cells shift to using carbohydrates for energy rather than fat, further decreasing fat loss.

Carbohydrates, fats and protein all require a portion of the calories they contain for their own digestion and absorption from the intestines. Proteins require 15-25 percent of their calories, carbs require 5-15 percent of their calories, and fats require 2-3 percent of their calories for this purpose. This is called the thermic effect of food.

During dieting, the thermic effect of food for carbs, fats, and proteins decrease so the body uses fewer calories for the digestion and absorption of food, contributing to the slowdown of weight loss.

Although there are fewer of these metabolic studies in cats and dogs, studies in both species have confirmed that weight gain after induced obesity and dieting is faster and requires fewer calories than needed to induce obesity. This would imply similar metabolic changes during dieting in cats and dogs.

What’s New with the Study

The results of the Finnish study suggest that metabolic efficiency changes have lasting effects.

Most studies follow metabolic changes over 1- 2 years, with few extending five years. The 25 year period studied by the Finnish researchers suggest that metabolic changes may last much longer and possibly indefinitely. Obviously, more research is needed to confirm this, but the implications are important. Rather than seeking diet solutions for ourselves and our companions, we should look at weight management as a complete lifestyle change in eating, feeding, and exercise habits.

Recent statistics indicate the average daily calorie intake in the U.S. across all age groups is 3,770. That is an astounding amount of calories. This is 770-1,000 more calories than needed for active men and women, and far more than necessary for children and less active individuals.

Our animal companions are also enjoying this calorie largess. This degree of overeating and overfeeding by us and our companions certainly warrants an analysis of lifestyle rather than the newest diet craze.

Selected from petMD.com

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