Chubby, Tubby, Plump and Pudgy

Jelly-Belly, butterball, husky, portly.  We jokingly refer to chunky animals as this, but it’s no laughing matter.  Experts estimate that nearly 55% of companion animals are overweight. This directly increases their risk for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, and heart disease.  They blame the pudgy pet problem on too many treats and not enough play time. Recently scientists determined that many companion animals are obese because they are emotional eaters! I understand first hand what it’s like to have an obese animal companion, and it’s one of the most challenging situations for everyone in our home.  This week is National Pet Obesity Awareness week, so I wanted to share some insights and fat facts with you.

“Over half the nation’s dogs and cats are now overweight making obesity the leading health threat of our pets. Largely preventable diseases such as arthritis and diabetes are being seen in record numbers costing pets their life and owners millions in medical bills. The reality most of these cases could be avoided simply by preventing weight gain and shedding excess pounds.”


Many animal guardians disregard the health hazards associated with overweight pets and instead focus on how cute their plump cat or roly-poly pet looks, says Nick Trout, DVM, a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and author of “Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles.”  But overfeeding a fat cat or dog is basically loving it to death, says Dr. Trout.  Overweight and obese pets not only have shorter life spans but also suffer from more medical problems during their lives, including back pain, arthritis, kidney disease, and diabetes—and they’re more expensive to care for as a result.

Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles
Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles

Just as disturbing, says Dr. Ward, is that an inactive pet is more likely to become depressed or anxious.  That’s because a sedentary lifestyle leads to an alteration in the three major brain chemicals responsible for mood — and that can create emotional issues. “Aerobic activity for as little as twenty to thirty minutes a day balances norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels,” he says, “resulting in a better, more stable mood.” Also, well-exercised animals won’t be quite as wound-up, so they’ll be less likely to run amuck, chew, bark, squawk and meow for hours, and other behaviors that we could all do without!


Fat Stats:

  • A 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average human female weighing 218 pounds!
  • A 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man!
  • A 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or a 217 pound 5’ 9” male!
  • A fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male!

Lindberg_Cat&Dog
57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogs are overweight or obese.

Fat, Skinny, or Just Right?

To determine if your animal companion is overweight, follow this scoring system used by most vets:  As the animal is standing, look down at him/her.  You should see an indentation after the ribs—the waist.  As you place your hands on the rib cage and apply gentle pressure, you should be able to feel the ribs.  If you can pinch an inch, he or she is not fluffy.  He is fat.  Use the Pet Weight Translator to determine how much your feline or canine companion weighs compared to an average adult human.

When a small or medium-sized animal gains even a little weight, it can have a significant impact on its health.  When a 15 pound dog is 5 pounds overweight, that’s the equivalent of you weighing 30% more than you should!

90 percent of pet owners of overweight dogs and cats do not know their companions need to shed some pounds.
90 percent of pet owners of overweight dogs and cats do not know their companions need to shed some pounds.

52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats to be overweight or obese by their veterinarian. That equals approximately 80 million U.S. dogs and cats at increased risk for weight-related disorders such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension and many cancers.

fat-cat

WHAT YOU CAN DO

 

“The single most valuable tool a pet owner has in the fight against obesity is a measuring cup.  Most pet owners don’t measure how much they’re feeding and even fewer know how much they should be feeding.”

Communicate!

Talk with your veterinarian about how much to feed your cat, dog, pig, bird or rat to keep them healthy.  You can’t always rely on pet food labels. How much each animal needs depends on their species, their frame, activity level, and the type of food you give them.  Most people are shocked to learn what an animal’s ideal body weight actually is.  A veterinarian can help you assess your animal companion’s weight correctly and develop a plan of action.

Monitor & Measure! 

Portly Piggies Need Exercise Too!
Portly Piggies Need Exercise Too!

How much food do you feed each animal? Is it a handful, a scoop, a bowl full?  Measuring each animal’s food allows you to keep track of exactly how much each one is eating. This also helps to keep his or her food intake consistent.

No More Free feeding!

Free feeding (having food available at all times) can encourage overeating. Feed your animal companion at specific times of the day. Also, any food that is not eaten within 15 minutes should be picked up.

Food is a tool!

Use potions of their meals for training time instead of placing all of the food in a bowl for them to chow down on all at once.

Treat or No Treat?  

All companion birds need daily exercise outside their enclosure
All companion birds need daily exercise outside their enclosure

Give treats sparingly. Don’t just dole out free treats.  Use treats as a time for training or as a very special reward.

Hunt & Seek!

For most species, you can hide treats around the house, and encouraging natural foraging behaviors. The cat, bird, dog or rat can learn to “hunt” for his or her food!

Exercise Every Day! 

Physical and mental stimulation are vital keeping any animal happy and healthy! This included keeping them.  Get Creative and remember that all species need daily exercise! Remember to check with your vet before starting a new regimen.

NOTE: When it comes to exercise, not all dogs are created equal: Historically, each breed was bred for different tasks.

Download these Exercise Tips for Dogs Based on Breed.  And check out Walking for Weight Loss! – Tips on aerobic dog walking, a start-up exercise program, and gear to make exercise safe, fun, and effective!

All cats need daily mental and physical stimulation
All cats need daily mental and physical stimulation

Check out these helpful tips for:

Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:


On Wednesday October 7, 2015, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention conducted their 9th Annual Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey. They need your help!  Learn more here.

It's not cool to be chubby. Help them to be healthy and strong!
It’s not cool to be chubby. Help them to be healthy and strong!

Overweight Animals:

  • Don’t feel good.  They often appear tired or lazy, lack energy and playfulness, are reluctant to jump or run, have difficulty grooming, lag behind on walks and pant heavily.  In addition, the extra weight puts stress on their joints, hearts, lungs, liver, kidneys and more.
  • Need more veterinary care. Overweight animals are at risk for a variety of health problems, including skin infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, immune suppression, diabetes mellitus, orthopedic and arthritic disorders and some forms of cancer.  These issues can greatly increase the amount of care the animal will need as a result of his or her weight.
  • Do not live as long.  It’s a sad fact, but possibly the most important one to consider. Most overweight animals have a significantly decreased life expectancy—up to two and a half years, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

Shedding a few pounds is the simple answer to these problems listed above.  Helping your animal companion to lose weight can decrease the stress on joints -this is especially important for animals with arthritis. Losing weight will help to improve their cardiovascular health, enhance their athletic abilities, and reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription medications that are required to manage medical disorders, caused by obesity.  But best of all, when your animal loses weight, you spend less time and money at the vet, and you increase your bond from spending more fun, active, quality time together!

Exercising with your animal companion should be FUN! Amd you increase your bond
Exercising with your animal companion should be FUN!  And it’s a great way to increase your bond!

This is a war veterinarians, pet owners and parents must win. Obesity is the number one preventable medical condition seen in veterinary hospitals today and is the fastest growing health threat of our nation’s children. Our goal is to help pets and people live longer, healthier, and pain-free lives by maintaining a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and physical activity. The most important decision a pet owner makes each day is what they choose to feed their pet. Choose wisely. Your pet’s life depends on it. ~  Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention


Recommended Reading:

http://www.petobesityprevention.org/

http://www.thedrakecenter.com

Dr Ernie Ward

2014 Obesity Facts & Risks

 

Emotional Eating In Animals

Image

Jack Sprat he loved no fat,
and his wife she lov’d no lean:
And yet betwixt them both,
they lick’t the platters clean.

English Proverb (1670)

The American waistline isn’t the only thing that’s a growing problem.  Companion animals are packing on the pounds as well.   Studies show that up to 60 percent of companion dogs and cats are obese or overweight.  They are actually in worse shape than we are, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of Americans are obese.  You do the math.

What’s most surprising is that calories and laziness are not the only factors causing this epidemic in animals.   If an animal in your home puts on weight, you might assume it is simply the result of an animal with a voracious appetite combined with an indulgent owner.  New evidence is showing us otherwise.

obese cat
Stress eating is quite common in humans but until recently, it was not considered a prime cause of domestic animal obesity.

According to the research review, published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, companion animals can use food as a “coping mechanism” to deal with “emotional distress”.  Many pets are becoming obese because they are prone to “emotional eating”, where they eat in an attempt to dispel feelings of unhappiness and stress.

Comfort or stress eating in humans involves specific kinds of foods. These can range from sweet to salty, crunchy or soft.  However animals will usually eat whatever and whenever.  Their stress eating doesn’t involve any particular food. They just eat a lot of their normal food, explains Dr. Franklin McMillan, a vet and former clinical professor of medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine:

Research shows that animals, like humans, can eat too much, not necessarily out of hunger, but also a result of “disinhibition” – whereby overeating is in response to stimuli other than internal hunger cues, such as stress. ~ Dr. Franklin McMillan

He also cites earlier studies to show that some animals offered an abundance of food do not overeat, as well as others showing a link between stress and negative emotions and eating. McMillan identifies several triggers to an animal’s stress eating. Some of these triggers are boredom, anxiety and depression. He also addresses skeptical animal guardians who think their pets are only happy when their faces are buried in a food dish, by explaining that research on pet obesity suggests overeating can be a sign of a pet’s pleasurable emotional state, or an animal mind “in turmoil.”

some pets use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress
Some animals use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress

The review makes one other thing clear — we need to change the way we think about pet obesity. Simply taking the food dish away or running your dog around the block aren’t necessarily going to address the underlying causes of stress eating.  Not all instances of pet obesity are tangled up in a pet’s emotional distress (some pets are just gluttons, and some owners are just irresponsible) so it’s important to recognize that one cause of an animal’s obesity is that the animal is eating more than it requires, the excess is stored as fat, hence the animal becomes overweight.  By overfeeding an improper diet that contains too much fat, too many carbohydrates and too many snacks without proper exercise will lead to obesity.  However, McMillan’s article shows that, just like with human obesity, pet obesity is probably way more complex than we realize.

 

Dr McMillan, who now works for Best Friends Animal Society, says the findings are such that they should change the way obesity in cats and dogs is addressed.  Rather than simply reducing the amount of food they can eat and increasing their exercise, guardians and veterinarians need to address the animal’s underlying emotional problems.  By simply putting an “emotional eater”on a diet, they could make the situation worse; taking away the animal’s “coping mechanism” and making the animal even more unhappy – and even hungrier.

The bottom line is that there is a ton of evidence in humans and animals like rodents that stress induced eating, or emotional eating is a very real thing and contributes to obesity, so we should be looking at it in “pet” animals.  If this is a major factor in our pet animals, then the standard approach, by simply yanking away their food, is very misguided and potentially harmful.  The indicators show that obesity is rising in humans and in pets. How much is attributable to emotional factors – that is the great unknown. 

fat ginger tabby
Fat animals are not cute. Obese pets are at serious risk for health problems and being overweight is damaging to their overall well being.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

To address this weighty problem, the first Animal Obesity Clinic geared especially for our animal companions has opened its door!  Created by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Tufts’ Veterinary Obesity Clinic will tap the strengths of the Cummings School’s nutrition service, a 15-year-old clinical, teaching and research service located at its Grafton, Mass., Foster Hospital for Small Animals — one of the nation’s busiest teaching hospitals.


 FAT FACTS

  • Triggers to an animal’s Stress Eating can be boredom, anxiety, general stress and depression.
  • Obese cats are more likely to be living in houses with only one or two cats.
  • Dogs in single dog households were more likely to be fat. Female dogs seem to be more susceptible to obesity than male ones.
  • Vets say over half the pets they see are overweight and most guardians are surprised to hear this news.
  • The obesity rate is at least 25% in cats and 45% in dogs.
  • Eight out of 10 dog, cat, and rabbit guardians believe that their animal is just the right weight, although when asked which of a series of pictures most closely resembled their pet, only 33% of dog guardians and 23% of cat guardians chose the “normal weight” picture.
  • Breeds prone to obesity: Labrador retriever, cairn terrier, cavalier king charles, Scottish terrier, cocker spaniel and in cats, the domestic shorthair. (For the record I would like to nominate the orange tabby cat to be added to this list.)

being overweight can lead to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.
Animal obesity leads to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.

Animals Are Not Meant to Be Chubby!

In the video below, Rollin’ Safari shows a series of four animated shorts created as an animation project by students from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, a film school in Germany.  Each short puts a humorous spin on animals seen in the wild by making them extremely bloated and round.  As humorous and clever as the clips are, they are not far from the truth of what is happening with the animals that we share a home with.

You can learn more about this project at CGSociety.

obese fat pets emotional eating

 Tools You Can Use

To tackle the companion animal obesity issue The Pet Food Manufacturers Association PFMA launched an obesity prevention campaign.  The aim is to raise awareness of companion animal obesity by asking animal guardians to take action on 4 simple things:

1.  Read the feeding guidelines on the pet food packet 

2. Monitor your animal’s weight on a regular basis and adjust the amounts fed accordingly

3. Use a Pet Size-O-Meter for cats, dogs and rabbits.  (This is a user friendly version of the Body Condition Score Chart used by pet professionals).

Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals
Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals

Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:

4. Track Their Health – Keep track of your companion animals health using these:

fat_bunny
Companion rabbits suffer from obesity too

It can be difficult to judge a rabbit’s body condition visually because their thick fur can hide prominent bones or disguise fat.  You will need to feel your rabbit so you can tell what is underneath the fluff.  A rabbit in healthy weight should have a smooth curve from neck to tail, and from hip to hip. You should be able to feel the spine and ribs but they should feel rounded not sharp – like they have a thin layer of padding.  It is normal, for females, to have a roll of fur under the chin. This is called a dewlap. It can look like fat but should just feel like a fold of skin when gently felt.  Learn more about how to determine and maintain healthy rabbit weight here and here.

 

Why You Should Be Proactive and Involved

We love our animals and we give them the best care possible, but unfortunately many of them are overweight. As their guardians we want to keep them happy, healthy and safe, so it’s easy to be embarrassed when one of your animals puts on the pounds like they are storing up for the next Ice Age. If one of your companion animals is putting on the pounds, remember that you are not alone. I am the first to admit that we have an obese cat. We have tried everything from prescription foods, holistic medicine, monitoring his food intake, increasing his physical activity and everything else you can imagine, but genetics and his love of food are winning the battle of the bulge. After discovering this study about emotional eating in animals I now firmly believe that this cat is a prime example of an animal who eats to comfort himself. Humans do it, so why wouldn’t animals? The question is how do we help them? What can we do to help their emotional needs, other than placing more food in front of them?
What about your animal family? Do you have a porky pooch, a hefty horse, a ravenous rabbit, a fat feline, or a big bird?
Do you think their extra pounds are due to a sedentary lifestyle and the foods they consume, or could they be an emotional eater?

 


SOURCES:

http://www.pfma.org.uk

http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-obesity-campaign/

http://www.therabbithouse.com

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk

http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/animals-are-becoming-obese-like-us-says-study.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9950467/Easy-rider.-Why-horses-are-feeling-the-strain-of-Britains-obesity-crisis.html