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Weight, Obesity, Diet and Food

By Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM
Updated: 2009-06-05 9:37 AM 2292 Views    Category: - General Pet Care
 
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Obesity is a severe and debilitating illness. It is the most common nutritional disease in pets and people; estimates suggest that up to 45% of dogs and up to 13% of cats are obese (many doctors think these estimates are quite low judging by the number of obese pets they see every day in practice.) Current medical opinion states that a pet is obese if it weighs 15% or more over its ideal weight. While pet owners often use the pet's actual weight to gauge obesity, it is probably more accurate to use a body composition score. Body composition, measured by looking at the pet from the top and sides and feeling the areas over the ribs and spine more accurately reflects obesity than a certain magical number.
 
Keep in mind that most obese pets are made, not born, that way. Many owners encourage begging and give too many treats and snacks. While people who constantly reward these begging behaviors believe they are being kind and loving, they are actually killing their pets with kindness.
 
Problems that are associated with obesity in pets and people are numerous and include orthopedic problems (including arthritis, ruptured ligaments, and disk disease,) difficulty breathing, reduced capacity for exercise (and in severe cases any movement at all,) heat intolerance, increased chance for complications due to drug therapy (it is more difficult to accurately dose medications in obese pets,) cardiac problems, hypertension, and cancer. When you keep in mind that the excess body fat occurs in the body cavities of the chest and abdomen (often being deposited there first) as well as under the skin (what we see as "fat",) it is not surprising all of the medical problems that can be associated with obesity.
 
Because diseases such as hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus can be associated with obesity, obese pets should be screened for these disorders prior to treatment for obesity.
 
The treatment of obesity involves restricting calories and increasing the metabolic rate via a controlled exercise program. Using store bought "Lite" diets is not usually adequate, as these diets are not designed for weight loss but rather weight maintenance. Additionally, since many store bought diets may contain chemicals, by-products, and fillers, they would not be a part of a holistic pet program. Homemade restricted calorie diets would be the first choice for dietary therapy for obese pets (see my book The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats for an example of a homemade diet for overweight pets;) processed "obesity-management" diets available through veterinarians would be the second best choice as some of these diets may also contain chemicals, by-products, and fillers. These "obesity-management" diets are used until the target weight is obtained, then replaced with a homemade maintenance diet if possible or a more natural and healthy pet food.
 
Foods which increase metabolism such as vegetables which are high in fiber are included in weight loss diets. Fiber, contained in vegetables, decreases fat and glucose absorption; fluctuating glucose levels cause greater insulin release. Since insulin is needed for fat storage, decreased or stable levels are preferred. Fiber also binds to fat in the intestinal tract and increases movement of the food in the intestines, which is of benefit to the obese pet.
 
There are several natural therapies that may be helpful as part of the treatment of obesity in some pets. Suggested therapies include chromium, carnitine, herbs (cayenne, ginger, and mustard,) hydroxycitric acid (HCA,) white bean extract, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG,) and coenzyme Q-10. These natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not been thoroughly investigated and proven at this time. In general, they work to boost metabolism, inhibit carbohydrate digesting enzymes, maintain normal blood insulin levels (which promotes the burning of fat,) and control appetite.
 
Finally, as with people, a regular program of supervised exercise is also important for pets on a weight reduction program. Using these ideas will help your pet get that old, slim figure back!”
 

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Dr. Messonnier, a 1987 graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, opened Paws & Claws Animal Hospital in 1991. His special interests include exotic pets, dermatology, and animal behavior. Dr. Messonnier is a well-known speaker and author. In addition to serving clients, he is a regular contributor to several veterinary journals, sits on the advisory board of the journal Veterinary Forum and regularly consults with veterinarians across the country and is a holistic pet columnist for Animal Wellness, Body + Soul, and Veterinary Forum. More info can be found at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.
 
 
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