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Combatting Pet Obesity: Signs, Causes, and Solutions for Overweight Dogs and Cats

Understanding the Risks and Remedies for Overweight Pets

Overweight and obesity in dogs, two 'EXTRA LARGE' enemies.

Pet obesity. Overweight and obesity are unfortunately becoming more and more common in our pets. But, unfortunately, the word ‘chubby‘ is not synonymous with healthy: excessive weight gain creates numerous problems for our pets’ organisms.

Indeed, fat dogs and cats have a much lower quality of life and life expectancy due to the multiple destructions that occur when there is an excess of so-called ‘fat mass‘. Regaining their ideal weight is a prerequisite if we are to guarantee them a condition of total well-being. Therefore, let us see how to prevent and deal with this problem together.

How do I know if my dog has gained weight?

Fat dogs, on average, have a shorter life span and a higher incidence of heart disease, urinary respiratory illness and complications from anaesthesia. The health risks of obese cats are also well known: they risk developing diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, joint problems and urinary tract disorders. Obesity, therefore, represents a significant threat to the health of our animals.

Because we live in close contact with our animals every day and have them constantly in sight, noticing their fattening is not always easy or immediate. The scales never lie: an animal is considered overweight when it exceeds its ideal weight by 5%-20% and obese when it exceeds 20%.

Being overweight in dogs can also be perceived by sight and touch when the ribs and waistline are no longer visible. The animal’s flanks appear parallel or even rounded, without ‘hourglass’ narrowing. From the side, on the other hand, we observe a more voluminous and drooping abdomen. At the thorax level, we note a smooth surface, i.e. the ribs can only be felt by applying intense pressure with the fingers.

Why is my dog getting fat?

Overweight and obesity in dogs, two 'EXTRA LARGE' enemies
Adequate food rationing is especially important.

The most common cause of weight gain in a dog is an imbalance between the energy taken in through food and the energy spent through physical activity, i.e. if more kilocalories are ingested daily, then they are ‘burnt‘ because the excess energy is stored in the form of fat and then distributed throughout the body.

This happens when our pets consume too much food (large portions or numerous snacks outside meals) or a high-calorie diet as part of a sedentary lifestyle. Adequate food rationing is especially important in voracious dogs, whether by nature or because of medications (antiepileptics, cortisone) that disproportionately increase appetite.

Sometimes, however, exercise alone is not enough to keep fit: overweight and obesity in dogs can be the outcome of a slowed metabolism due to a genetic predisposition ( e.g., in breeds such as Labrador Retriever or Beagle) or hormonal imbalances, often secondary to neutering/sterilisation and endocrine disorders ( e.g., hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease).

What consequences does my dog face if he gains weight?

The most apparent negative impacts are due to all body mass being excessively bulky and being managed with the difficulty of the apparatuses that support the movement.

Blood circulation becomes problematic, and the heart becomes fatigued by the workload; hypertension combined with reduced respiratory capacity makes the animal less resistant to physical exertion and heat, so it tyres quickly and has little desire to move.

Overweight and obesity in dogs, two 'EXTRA LARGE' enemies
Innovet Oleea – 60 Capsules – for Dog and Cat Health in Overweight or Obese.

But that’s not all because the growing adipose tissue does not serve as a simple fat store; it possesses a metabolic activity and incessantly produces substances that generate chronic inflammation. This is why obesity leads to such disorders as oxidative stress, cellular ageing, decreased immune defences, susceptibility to many dog infections, difficulty healing and wound healing, diabetes, and various cancers.

Fat dog. Adipose tissue is an active tissue.

Obesity can cause many systemic problems because the increase in adipose tissue creates mechanical issues due to bulk and weight gain. In addition, because this tissue is metabolically active, its malfunctioning causes numerous alterations.

Previously, it was thought that extra kilos were only a problem of aesthetics and movement, but this is not the case; this tissue influences the entire organism. Adipose tissue can break down a series of bioactive molecules known as adipokines.

In the course of obesity, there is an increased secretion of adipokines with a pro-inflammatory action that can lead to low-grade inflammation at a systemic level, worsen insulin sensitivity and favour the development of other pathologies.

My dog has gained weight; what can I do?

Being overweight and obese in dogs are critical conditions in their own right, promoting the onset of numerous diseases and aggravating those that may be present.

For this reason, it is essential to counteract them by all means and as early as possible. As soon as an excess of fat mass is glimpsed, it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian, who can assess your dog’s nutritional status and recommend the most appropriate diet and supplements depending on the extent of the problem.

Furthermore, suppose the weight gain does not depend (only) on an incorrect diet. In that case, the veterinarian can perform helpful tests to identify pathology in its early stages, which could be the cause or consequence of the excess pounds “gained” by the dog.

Let’s start by recognising the problem.

Obesity and overweight problems in pets.
To help house cats stay fit, we have to control what we put in the bowl and provide them with proper physical activity, including through games.

It sounds strange, but it can happen that an owner does not realise that their pet is overweight. Somewhat because we see our dog or cat every day and do not realise the weight gain, or because it has long hair, or perhaps because we unintentionally do not want to notice it.

To assess our animal’s body condition, there is a scale called BCS (Body Condition Score): this scale goes from 1 to 9, where one is underweight and nine is obese. It is crucial to avoid making cats gain weight because, in addition to various health problems, it is more complex to change their diet and lifestyle, if necessary, than with dogs. It is based on rib visibility, hip line and fat deposits. The normal-weight animal is between 4 and 5 on this scale, with palpable but not visible ribs, an evident flank line and suitable fat deposits.

Another way to assess the state of nutrition is to palpate the rib cage: if the sensation we feel when we touch the ribs is comparable to the one we feel when we touch the knuckles of our fingers, the weight tends to be correct. But, again, your vet will certainly be able to help you during the examination.

The first approach is nutritional.

A correctly formulated diet is crucial for weight loss. Certainly, calorie restriction is indispensable, but avoiding excessively reducing essential nutrients is imperative. We must preserve the lean mass of our ‘chubby‘ friend and promote fat loss. But, since he will have to lose weight and go a little hungry, taste is also fundamental! As in, better a little food but good.

Obesity and overweight problems in dogs and cats.
Overweight dogs often take in more calories than they need, and this is because their humans feed them too much. Another problem is not realising that the dog may need less energy in some instances.

Protein

Protein should, therefore, never be missing from a diet for an obese dog or cat: reduce fat and quickly eliminate carbohydrates, but always leave protein and a portion of the fibre. Providing low-calorie diets with an increased protein/calorie ratio increases the percentage of fat lost and reduces the loss of fat mass.

Fibres

Dietary fibre is always poorly digested and therefore provides little energy: we can use it, if the animal tolerates it, to reduce the calorie density of food and increase satiety. Commercial diets specifically designed for weight management use fibre to reduce calories, which improves the number and quantity of defecations.

Nutraceuticals

There is no such thing as a magic weight-loss supplement; the inventor would be more than a little rich today. However, various products on the market can help with weight loss. Carnitine, for example, appears to improve lipid metabolism and maintain lean mass.

In addition, omega-3 supplementations, especially EPA and DHA, are crucial to managing the low-grade inflammation that we have seen caused by obesity. Other products, such as spirulina or ginkgo biloba, can be used in animals in consultation with a veterinary doctor.

Fat dog, home management: the problem belongs to everyone.

When the problem of obesity or overweight has been identified, all family members must take action to help the animal in distress. It is essential to control calories and increase exercise. In addition, it is crucial to eliminate all treats from the table unless agreed with the veterinary nutritionist who set the diet and not to give in to your dog’s languid and hungry looks.

Increase walks and outings. If he is a cat, you can have him play in the house with balls or pretend mice, or, if your kitten will allow it, get a harness (and a lot of patience) and take him up the stairs in the house every day, even more than once. These are small but fundamental changes in the routine to move an obese body back to an ideal weight.

A marathon

When an animal needs to lose weight, we need to know its ideal weight and establish steps and periodic checks with the veterinary nutritionist following us. This will make it easier to follow and monitor progress. But, of course, returning to a healthy weight is a marathon, not a 100-metre race, and it is essential not to lose heart. But goodwill in this field always pays off.

The scales must undoubtedly be present in the kitchen. If the animal is on a homemade diet, weighing the ingredients, especially the prescribed fats, is imperative. Oil, for example, is a very caloric food; if we exceed the prescribed amount, we ruin the whole diet plan in no time. The scales must also be used for exceptional commercial food: we cannot measure kibble ‘by eye‘ because calories can quickly increase.

What about our cat?

Obesity in cats is, unfortunately, widespread and very dangerous. In managing a feline’s weight loss, several problems related to the species: the cat may not like the new diet (commercial or fresh) and, therefore, reject it. But it cannot remain too fast, a condition that, if prolonged for too long, leads to hepatic lipidosis.

Cardboard Castle for Cats for lost weight.
Variety of different shaped/sized cut-outs for your cat to leap through.
Solid Wood Gopher Cat Toy for lost weight.
This is a whack-a-mole cat interactive toy, imitating cat and mouse game.
Activity board for cats.
The interactive activity board with a diameter of 36 cm and six play options offers your cats and you a great variety of activities.

So, it is necessary to convince the cat to accept the new food and accept the reduction in daily calories, which may also make him more nervous. In short, it would be better to avoid making him gain weight. Environmental enrichment is fundamental for his psychophysical well-being. For example, the cat loves verticality, so allowing it to explore and climb encourages it to move and exercise.

There are many mind-activating toys on the market where, following specific sequences, a compartment containing food is opened. Or for the series ‘minimum expense equals maximum output’ cardboard boxes: cats love them. Do-it-yourself home runs can be organised for them to play in.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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