Obesity is defined as excessive fat accumulation that presents a health risk and pet obesity is now officially recognised as a disease by many pet health organisations. A survey amongst veterinary professionals confirmed that 51% of dogs and 44% of cats are overweight or obese highlighting that obesity is a growing concern (PFMA, 2018). Within the same survey 100% of the vets said they were concerned about the rise in obesity however research amongst 8000 households confirmed that 67% of pet owners admit that they are not worried about their pets’ weight (PFMA, 2018, PFMA, 2019). This suggests that the majority of pet owners are unaware of the health risks associated with obesity or are unable to identify if their pet is overweight.
The risks associated with obesity in cats and dogs include musculoskeletal disease such as arthritis, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, diabetes mellitus and shortened life expectancy (Bland et al, 2009; Salt et al, 2019). As well as increased health risks, research suggests there is a clear link between an animal’s ideal weight and their quality of life (German et al., 2012). Maintaining a healthy weight can ensure the pet remains mobile, physically able to explore their surroundings and be free from discomfort.
Is my Pet overweight?
To establish if a cat or dog is at their ideal weight a body condition scoring (BCS) system can be used. BCS can be subjective however the 5-interger scale (Table 1; Table 2) BCS system has been shown to have good repeatability and predictability between different users (German et al., 2006). On a scale of 1 to 5 the optimal score for cats and dogs is 3 (Bjornvad et al., 2011; Chun et al., 2019). Although some level of understanding is required, pet owners can use the visual and physical examination described in the BCS to determine their pets body condition.
Table 1: Guide to 5-point Body Condition Scores in Cats (Source: FEDIAF, 2020)
Table 2: Guide to 5-point Body Condition Scores in Dogs (Source: FEDIAF, 2020)
Why is my Pet overweight?
Obesity is often a result of increased energy intake and reduced energy expenditure however it can also be a result of the animal’s metabolism (German, 2006; Bland et al., 2010). Other factors which can affect weight include:
• Breed and Genetics
• Physical activity
• Neuter status
• Disease/Medical Conditions
• Environmental factors
A study by Coe and colleagues (2019) found that when dog owners were asked to measure out their pets kibble inaccurate measurements ranged from 47% underestimation to 152% overestimation. Underestimation can lead to weight loss and in some cases nutrient deficiency whereas overestimation can lead to weight gain. The study concluded that using electronic weigh scales to measure food was the most accurate device.
Weight Loss: What should I feed my pet?
Therapeutic treatments for obesity include dietary management and increased physical activity. Diets high in protein and fibre have shown to be successful at increasing satisfaction and fullness (Heuberger & Wakshlag, 2011). Diets supplemented with L-Carnitine have also shown to aid weight and fat loss in overweight dogs and cats (Sunvold et al, 1998; Center, 1998). Complete pet food diets can be formulated specifically to target weight loss which typically have reduced metabolisable energy (kcals) and a lower fat content compared to standard diets. These types of diets are usually marketed as “Light” feeds.
Metabolisable energy content of dry pet food is calculated using a standardised calculation referred to as the National Research Council (NRC) four step predictive equation (NRC, 2006). For pets prone to weight gain it is recommended to feed ≤ 90 kcal ME/kg0.75 in dogs and a minimum of 52 kcal ME/kg0.67 in cats (FEDIAF, 2020). When feeding a specific diet for weight loss the feeding guidelines for the product will reflect the reduction in calorie intake required. Adjustments to feeding amounts may still be needed throughout the weight loss programme depending on the individual pet. Feeding guides do not factor in any additional calories consumed in other forms such as treats, chews, table scraps, etc. Complementary feeds, such as treats, should be restricted if the pet is on a diet or the additional calories should be factored in to the feeding regime.
Once the pet has reached their optimal weight it is important to maintain this, which can be challenging. For weight maintenance in dogs the daily recommended intake can increase to 110 kcal ME/kg0.75 assuming the dog is participating in moderate levels (1-3 hours/day) of activity. For weight maintenance in cats the daily recommended intake can increase to 75 kcal ME/kg0.67 for neutered or indoor cats or 100 kcal ME/kg0.67 for active cats (FEDAIF, 2020). Daily intake can be adjusted to suit the individual pet’s condition and lifestyle in order to maintain their optimum weight.
Bjornvad, C.R., Nielsen, D.H., Armstrong, P.J., McEvoy, F., Hoelmkjaer, K.M., Jensen, K.S., Pedersen, G.F. and Kristensen, A.T. (2011). Evaluation of a nine-point body condition scoring system in physically inactive pet cats. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 72(4), pp.433–437.
Bland, I.M., Guthrie-Jones, A., Taylor, R.D. and Hill, J. (2009). Dog obesity: Owner attitudes and behaviour. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 92(4), pp.333–340.
Bland, I.M., Guthrie-Jones, A., Taylor, R.D. and Hill, J. (2010). Dog obesity: Veterinary practices’ and owners’ opinions on cause and management. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 94(3-4), pp.310–315.
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Chun, J.L., Bang, H.T., Ji, S.Y., Jeong, J.Y., Kim, M., Kim, B., Lee, S.D., Lee, Y.K., Reddy, K.E. and Kim, K.H. (2019). A simple method to evaluate body condition score to maintain the optimal body weight in dogs. Journal of Animal Science and Technology, 61(6), pp.366–370.
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German, A.J., Holden, S.L., Moxham, G.L., Holmes, K.L., Hackett, R.M. and Rawlings, J.M. (2006). A Simple, Reliable Tool for Owners to Assess the Body Condition of Their Dog or Cat. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(7), pp.2031S – 2033S.
German, A. J., Holden, S. L., Wiseman-Orr, M. L., Reid, J., Nolan, A. M., Biourge, V., & Scott, E. M. (2012). Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss. The Veterinary Journal, 192(3), pp.428-434.
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PFMA (2019). PFMA Obesity Report 2019. [online] Available at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/_assets/docs/White%20Papers/PFMA-Obesity-Report-2019.pdf
Salt, C., Morris, P.J., Wilson, D., Lund, E.M. and German, A.J. (2019) Association between life span and body condition in neutered client-owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 33, pp.89-99.
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