Obesity in Pets
a Severe and Debilitating Illness ...
PRINCIPAL NATURAL TREATMENTS
- Natural diet
SUPPORTING NATURAL TREATMENTS
- Chromium, carnitine, boron, cayenne, ginger, mustard, hydroxyl-citric acid, chitosan, Coenzyme Q10
Obesity, defined as an increase in body weight of at least 15% above what would be normal for the size of the pet, is the most common disease in pets today. As with people, obesity results from an excess caloric intake relative to the expenditure of energy.
Many pet parents question a link between spaying or neutering the pet and obesity. Reduction of the male and female hormones, as a result, does NOT cause obesity per se. However, if the metabolic rate decreases as a result of neutering or spaying, and if the intake of calories is not adjusted, obesity can result.
Because diseases such as hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus can be associated with obesity, obese pets should be screened for these disorders prior to treatment.
Obesity is a severe and debilitating illness. Obesity is a disease of domestication, and is the most common nutritional disease in pets and people. With rare exception, the presence of a disease like thyroid disease, obese pets are made that way by their pet parents and guardians, not born that way. In the wild, few, if any, animals are obese.
It was, until recently, assumed that adipose tissue (fat) was involved only as a store for excess energy and insulation. Recent studies have shown that adipose tissue is also an endocrine organ . Hormones and proteins secreted from adipose cells, termed adipokines , affect systemic appetite levels, inflammatory responses, insulin sensitivity and metabolism. Many genes traditionally associated with lipid, protein and carbohydrate metabolism are not altered in obese versus lean dogs, but genes pertaining to endocannabinoid metabolism, insulin signalling, type II diabetes mellitus and carnitine transport are differentially expressed, suggesting that increasing body weight is responsible for gene-induced hormonal changes (Grant RW, 2013).
While pet parents often use the pet’s actual weight to gauge obesity, it is probably more accurate to use a body composition score.
Can pet parents prevent obesity? Keep in mind that most obese pets are made that way, not born that way. Many pet parents give their pets treats and snacks and feed them whenever the pet begs for food. In essence, these pet parents are setting their pets up for all of the medical problems that can occur with obesity. While many people who constantly reward these begging behaviours believe that they being kind and loving pet parents, they are actually killing their pets with kindness, no pun intended.
Problems that are associated with obesity in pets and people alike are numerous and include orthopaedic problems, including arthritis, ruptured ligaments, intervertebral disk disease, difficulty breathing, reduced capacity for exercise, and in severe cases, movement at all, heat intolerance, increased chance for complications due to drug therapy, cardiac problems, hypertension, and cancer.
The treatment of obesity requires a controlled low-calorie, low fat diet with a sensible exercise program. It is however very important that your fur kid receive a blood profile to rule out diseases previously discussed, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, that may actually be the cause or contribute to obesity.
What Not to Feed an Overweight or Obese Pet
Since commercial processed pet food is a root cause of overweight and obesity in dogs and cats, the solution is certainly not to feed more of the same. And it’s especially important to avoid feeding commercial pet food claiming to be a "low-fat" or “weight reduction” formula for weight loss.
Most processed “low-fat” pet foods are very high in carbohydrates (often labelled “high-fibre”), and typically contain excessive amounts of starches like corn, wheat, rice, potato, or oatmeal, as well as an abnormal amount of non-digestible fibre, or “roughage".
The starches are low in fat, but high in calories; excess calories are stored by your pet's body as fat. The non-nutritive fibre is simply a filler. The theory behind fibre-filled pet food is that it makes cats and dogs feel full. Fibre may make your pet feel temporarily full, but he's not being satiated at the cellular level where it truly counts. Fibre beyond what would naturally occur in a species appropriate diet (no more than 8 percent for dogs and cats) blocks absorption of crucial nutrients into the small intestine. It acts as a barrier, preventing trace minerals, vitamins and antioxidants from being absorbed into your fur kid’s body.
Many "low-fat" or "weight loss" formulas contain as much as 27 percent fibre, blocking a tremendous amount of critical nutrients! Many pet parents report their dogs actually act more famished on these "diet" dog foods when fed for a prolonged period of time, and for good reason. Chronic deprivation of nutrients to the cells can result in feelings of constant hunger.
This is because your carnivorous cat or dog isn't getting enough protein and other essential nutrients to adequately sustain his biology. The constant hunger prompts many pets to exhibit pesky begging behaviours, or begin attempting to raid garbage cans or open pantry doors, and becoming obsessive about eating anything and everything on walks.
These annoying behaviours prompt many people to feed more food, assuming their pet is "starving" despite the fact that the animal is too heavy. The end result is a pet that is still fat (and often fatter), but at the same time undernourished, which further exacerbates the potential for degenerative disease.
What Your Dog or Cat SHOULD be Fed
Whether your pet is overweight or slim and trim, a healthy, species-appropriate diet for dogs and cats is naturally anti-inflammatory and consists of real, whole foods, preferably raw, organic, and non-GMO, such as the selection we offer you here from Simply Pets, Doggobone, Raw Love for Pets and Dogmatters. It includes:
- High-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone (protein should make up 75 percent of a healthy dog's diet, and 88 percent of a cat's diet);
- Low to moderate levels of animal fat (depending on your pet's activity level);
- High levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 essential fatty acids);
- A few fresh cut vegetables and a bit of fruit, pureed;
- A whole food vitamin / mineral supplement that meets the additional E, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, and vitamin D deficiencies often found in home-made diets OR enough of these hard-to-source foods in whole food forms, daily;
- Beneficial additions such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods;
- High moisture content;
- No grains or starches.
Portion Control and Regular Exercise
Along with balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, it's important when feeding any pet, and especially an overweight or obese animal, to practice portion control on a very consistent basis (as in, at every meal).
One of the biggest problems we see with pet parents who tell us "I'm doing everything right, but she's still heavy", is feeding enough calories to sustain her current weight, but not feeding for her ideal weight (it's calorie deficit that prompts the body to burn stored fat).
For most dogs and cats, this means a carefully measured morning and evening meal. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats, especially any extra bones and chews. Equally important is insuring your dog or cat gets regular exercise. An overweight body slims down by taking in fewer calories and expending more energy.
Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat, increase muscle tone, and maintain the integrity of her musculoskeletal system.
Additional supplements for the obese pet may be helpful as well. Unfortunately, no magic pills exist that will ensure weight loss in pets. Still, some supplements may contribute to weight loss when used as part of a comprehensive plan.
- Chromium. Chromium is a trace mineral that can increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Since decreased sensitivity to insulin can contribute to weight gain, as often happens in diabetic patients, supplying additional chromium is recommended for weight control in people. Research is needed to determine whether chromium would be of benefit to overweight pets.
- Carnitine. In people, carnitine is commended to help reduce fat deposits. Research is needed to determine whether chromium would be of benefit to overweight pets.
- Boron. This trace mineral may speed up the burning of calories in people. Research is needed to determine whether boron would be of benefit to overweight pets.
- Herbs. Herbs, such as cayenne, mustard, and ginger increase metabolism in people and may also do the same in pets. You can introduce the Honeyvale Meta-Boost Herbal Blend as part of your dietary regime to help arrest obesity. Research is needed to determine whether the herbs would be of benefit to overweight pets.
- Hydroxycitric acid. Hydroxycitric acid, also called HCA, is a product extracted from the rind of the tamarind citrus fruit of the Garcinia cambogia tree. It suppresses hunger in people and helps prevent the body enzyme. This supplement should be used in conjunction with a weight-reduction diet and exercise program.
- Chitosan. Chitosan is a dietary supplement made from the outer skeletons of shellfish. The product is purported to bind to fat in the intestines, which prevents the absorption of fat. Studies are inconclusive regarding how well the compound works in people or pets.
Why typical Diet Programs Fail
Despite our best efforts, some diet programs just don’t seem to work.
Reasons for this include:
- Underlying disease. While an underlying disorder such as Cushing’s Disease, thyroid disease, or diabetes is only present in at most 5% of obese dogs, all of our obese pets should be screened for these, and other, diseases prior to starting a comprehensive weight-reduction program. Failure to do so will result in no weight loss and potentially serious illness or death in the pet with one of these conditions.
- Lack of veterinary involvement. Many owners decide to implement a weight-reduction program on their own, without proper veterinary supervision. This is unlikely to work for many reasons. First, in those rare cases with underlying medical disorders causing or contributing to the obesity, the true problem will not be diagnosed, and the diet will not work. Second, many pet parents implemented diet programs simply consisting of the pet parent feeding a “Lite” diet. We know that “Lite” diets are worthless for weight-loss programs. Feeding less rarely results in weight loss for two main reasons:
- Pets who eat less are hungrier, beg more, and ultimately are fed more as the pet parent become impatient with the constant begging for food;
- As pets, and people, eat less, their metabolism slows down. Pets who are fed less will adapt to this lower metabolism and maintain weight.
- Fear of “starving” the pet. Most pet parents do not want to see their pets starve, and we certainly must question whether or not this procedure is humane. Starvation will reduce fat but also burn muscle. People who starve can develop medical complications due to deranged glucose and fat metabolism. While this may not be as much of a problem in dogs, starvation is not recommended, as significant metabolic problems could arise in future.
- Impatience. Obesity does not happen overnight, and neither does weight loss. Pet parents must be patient, especially with larger dogs whom might require many months of eating a proper diet to slowly lose weight.
As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.