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The dangers and consequences of pet obesity

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: The Dog Dictionary.
Headline pet news: West Hollywood petstore dog & cat sale ban/Natural Variety Raw Diet Recall
Personal comment: The dangers and consequences of pet obesity.

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

For my personal comment tonight, I will be addressing an unnecessarily common health issue in dogs and cats, and that is the epidemic of obesity. So if your cat looks like this (see video for image), or your dog looks like this (see video for image), you especially need to pay close attention to what I have to say.

Obesity and the lifestyle that supports it, overeating, the consumption of excess carbohydrates and fats, and being sedentary, causes pets a world of secondary health problems. From a metabolic standpoint, the obese patient is predisposed to life threatening bouts of disease of the pancreas, as well as insulin dependent diabetes. Fat cats especially love to get diabetes, comprising the biggest percentage of diabetic patients in small animal medicine.

From a musculoskeletal standpoint, obesity leads to spinal disc injuries, ligament tears, and early age arthritis due to excessive stress obesity causes to these structures. I have one particular West Highland White Terrier patient that resembles a foot stool she is so fat, that for the past 3 years, literally wobbles her way into my clinic because her obesity decreases her ability to ambulate normally. This Westie now has to come in for regular rehab laser treatments for her knees because her obesity is wearing them out at only 5 years of age.

The owner of this Westie, as is the case of many owners with obese pets, has maintained that he does not over feed her, offering her only the diet food that I prescribed, in the amounts I recommended. I even ran bloodwork on her and checked her thyroid levels to make certain there was not underlying medical disease contributing to the dog’s obesity, which all returned normal; confirming that this owner is lying to me, that this dog is getting overfed despite his protests that this is not the case.

You see folks, animals like people, when overfed gain weight, and when fed less, lose weight. One does not need a veterinary degree to figure that out. So when I have ruled out all known medical causes for obesity, prescribed a weightloss diet that your pet responds to by getting even fatter, you are lying to me and not following my instructions.

With the owner of the fat Westie, it was his wife that ultimately ratted him out, explaining to me that her husband indeed feeds the recommended amounts of the weightloss diet I prescribed, but also continues to offer the dog a portion of whatever he is eating, whether it be bacon, steak, potato chips, or even iced cream!

So because this owner cannot resist his dog’s begging, to date it has cost him $140 in bloodwork, $360 in laser rehabilitation treatments and $150 in anti-inflammatory drugs for the bum knees. The dog’s quality of life is compromised because she is so bloated that she cannot move, and at this rate, her life will surely be shortened.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is just one example of a virtually endless number of patients that have a similar story. Why owners at a huge cost to their pet’s health, as well as their bank accounts, just cannot say no to their pets and ration their eating, is beyond me. I even had one owner tell me that he will never get weight off his dog because, like his own personal approach to life, he would rather let him eat what he wants, live a shorter life and die happy, rather than go through life unsatisfied and live longer.

To that, my reply is this:

Your dog’s life will indeed be shorter, but he will not die happy. On his way to the end of his life that you have decided to hasten, he stands a far greater likelihood than other non-obese pets, of needing surgery to repair ligament tears or spinal disc herniations. Along his shortened journey of life, he may have to be hospitalized for pancreatitis or need to receive insulin injections to manage his diabetes. He may have his vision compromised from diabetic complication of cataracts or because his obesity is causing his body to deposit cholesterol on the corneas of his eyes. And if he survives all of that, at some point, the decision to put him to sleep will ultimately be made because his obesity has stressed his joints to severe level of degenerative disease, the pain of which, all the medications in the world can no longer manage.

Sounds to you like a crappy way to live? Of course it does! So if your pet is fat, take it seriously and start getting some weight off. To help you in your task, I will be posting some general feeding guidelines, as well as some good choices for weightloss diets on the blog, at

That is our show for this Thursday, February 18, 2010. Please help us continue our discussion at our blog at As always, comments posted there will be addressed by me live on my supplemental show Sunday evening at 7:30 PM EST at Please join me next week, as I will be discussing heartworm disease in dogs and cats. Is it really that bad of a problem? Can cats get it too? Find out next week.

Natural Variety raw diet recall products:

•3 lb chicken medallions (UPC# 7 69949 60130 2) with a “Best If Used By” date of 11/10/10
•6 lb chicken patties (UPC# 7 69949 60120 3) with a “Best If Used By” date of 11/10/10
•2 lb chicken chubs (UPC# 7 69949 60121 0) with a “Best If Used By” date of 11/10/1

Supplemental Information:

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Begin assessing your pet’s body condition by simply looking at him. Viewed from above, you should see a noticeable “waist,” which in dogs and cats is a modest tapering just past the rib cage. No visible waist (or the opposite – a pouching out or pear shape) is an indication that the pet is overweight.

Viewed from the side, as your eyes from the chest toward the back end of the dog just past the rib cage, the abdomen should be tucked in. Lack of this (or the opposite – a pot belly) is an indication that the pet is overweight.

(Ideal appeareance)

Run your fingers across the rib cage. You should be able to feel individual ribs. While you should never see rib protrusions, you should always be able to feel them beneath the skin. If you cannot feel ribs, that is an indication that your pet is overweight.

So how do I get weight off my overweight pet?

If your pet is just mildly to moderately overweight, I would begin by simply calculating the daily food intake to make certain that you are not overfeeding. The general guideline that I offer for dogs and cats is one 8 oz cup of food per 20 pounds of body weight per day. Since different foods have different caloric content, this guideline is general, but usually fits fairly well with most normal pets and with most diets. If you are already feeding this much or less and your pet is overweight, try cutting back what you are currently feeding by about 25%, as well as try to increase exercise. In doing these calculations, be sure not to use the pet’s current weight, but the target weight which you or your veterinarian feel would be ideal.

If your pet is substantially overweight and/or the above measures have not helped, then you should select a weightloss diet. Commercially, Science Diet, Eukanuba, Iams, and Royal Canin all make excellent weightloss diets for both dogs and cats. If I had to pick out one of these diets as my favorite as far as most effective, the Science Diet light formulas have historically seemed to be the best in my experience. You would feed these diets under the same 1 cup per 20 pounds per day guideline.

If your pet is morbidly obese and/or even these good commercial weightloss diets have not helped get weight off your pet, then it is time to consider a prescription weightloss diet from your veterinarian. Each vet has his/her own favorite lines of prescription diets, so ask your vet which one he/she recommends. I am a big fan of Hills R/D for this purpose. With these stubborn weightloss patients, it is also a good idea to have the thyroid checked to make certain that hypothyroidism, a.k.a., underactive thyroid, is not getting in the way of proper weightloss.

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