It's no secret that obesity is a problem in humans. Reality television makes millions of dollars chronicling the efforts of Americans attempting to shed excess weight. And every day, new medical research highlights the serious implications obesity has for heart disease, diabetes and other maladies.
Now, more and more attention is being paid to the problem in household pets.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the prevalence of obesity in dogs is between 22 percent and 40 percent. The reasons and the remedies for the problem seem to mirror each other across species.
These include decreased physical activity, age and an increased caloric intake, according to Craig Thatcher of Blacksburg, Va., a professor in the department of large-animal clinical sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, noted veterinary nutritionist and charter diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Genetics can also increase a pet's risk of being overweight, said Thatcher. Labrador retrievers, beagles and cocker spaniels are all breeds that are more likely to carry some extra pounds.
There are also endocrine diseases associated with obesity that must be considered and ruled out before the pet undergoes weight reduction, he added.
Diabetes a Problem
Like humans, there are many health problems associated with being obese.
Dogs and cats that are overweight may be predisposed to develop diabetes mellitus. They may also suffer from decreased heat tolerance and stamina, increased dermatological conditions, decreased immune function, and multiple musculoskeletal and orthopedic problems.
As the pet progresses through a weight-loss program, the owner must monitor the animal's progress by weighing and by assessing body condition.
This should initially be done every two weeks to ensure that the animal is successfully losing weight.
"Avoiding obesity is an important part of the overall wellness of an animal," explained Thatcher. "Pets and their owners alike will enjoy a much higher quality of life when the pet maintains a healthy weight."