The World Health Organization defines obesity as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.’ According to the 2009 Pet Obesity Prevention Study, it is estimated that 89 million US dogs and cats are overweight (54% of the estimated 171 million pets) or obese and an estimated 26 million US pets (15% of pets) are obese. For comparison, it is estimated that 64% of the US population is overweight and 26% is obese according the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.
Obesity has become an extremely important health problem in the Western world, not only for humans, but also for dogs and cats. The primary reason for development of obesity in any animal is that they are consuming more energy than they are expending. Unfortunately, obesity is more complicated than the simple matter of intake or output, there are many other factors that play a role in the development of this disease. Risk factors associated with obesity in pets are sterilization, genetics, physical inactivity, age, breed, ‘free’ feeding regimes, endocrine disease and indoor living.
Obesity in pets is associated not only with diabetes mellitus in cats and insulin resistance in dogs, but joint disease, skin problems, respiratory disease, heart disease, cancer and decreased life span.
The mainstay treatment of obesity consists of decreasing caloric intake and increasing exercise. Although this concept sounds simple, success is often very difficult. When consulting your veterinarian, they will often inquire about a diet history (main diet, treats, table food, etc), exercise programs (number/duration of walks per day, play schedule, etc), and environment (indoors vs. outdoors). A thorough veterinary examination will also include a precise body weight measurement and an assessment of a body condition score. Routine blood work (complete blood count, serum biochemistry and urinalysis) can determine if there is an underlying cause of the obesity, which should always be assessed.
Obesity treatment modalities consist of special therapeutic diets, feeding a measured amount specified by your veterinarian, increasing exercise habits and coming in for regular veterinary exams and ‘weigh-ins’. Your veterinarian most likely will recommend frequent monitoring of your pet’s progress. This important monitoring can occur as frequently as every 2 weeks.
At this time there are no medications that can be used for obesity management in cats. However, in dogs, there is medication that is an appetite suppressant that manipulates the absorption of fat into the body in a way to trick the brain into feeling full. Consult your veterinarian about this therapy and other therapies listed to ensure the safety of your four-legged friends.