As a spin-off from previous “Pet Care” columns and the dietary management associated with an elderly dog, I have decided to introduce “Obesity” as a concern which vets often encounter as the companion animals grow older.
Obesity generally occurs when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure (same for humans). Scientists have constructed a Body Condition Score (BCS), which helps to define obesity as being 25% above the ideal body weight that is related to the breed, gender, and age of the pet. I would hasten to document that, in dogs and cats, obesity is the most common nutritional health problem. Obesity-associated health risks continue to increase.
I saw a publication recently which documented that the obesity prevalence in the USA ranges up to 63% in some canine populations, and 59% among cats. Incidence increases with age in both species. Bitches and Tom cats appear to be predisposed to obesity.
Genetically (breed) predisposed dogs include Labradors and Golden Retrievers (alas, my favourite canines). Other dog breeds (and their crosses) that tend to become obese include Scottish and Cairn Terriers, Collies, Spaniels, Schnauzers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dachshunds and Saint Bernards.
What (Main Risk factors) can promote obesity?
* Incorrect feeding habits/inappropriate diet composition and management, especially after neutering/spaying of dogs and cats.
* Strict indoor housing (apartment dwelling – especially for cats) with little or no exercise opportunities. (This risk factor is more prevalent in North America and Europe – but also here in Guyana and the Caribbean).
* Long-term usage of certain medications (your vet would advise you on this matter).
* Diabetes (we will deal with this ailment specifically next week).
* Heat intolerance.
* Impaired mobility (caused by concomitant ailments, e.g., Arthritis/Joint Displasia in dogs, and liver problems in cats).

Once we have determined the causes (see Risk Factors above), then we can introduce methods to counteract the obesity problems in elderly animals. However, you should note that the acquired fatty mass is difficult to remove. The dog would be just unwilling to go for a walk –definitely not lengthy walks. In the case of cats, if the caregiver radically reduces the appropriate diet, the cat will begin to cry, beg, steal and scavenge. Which hard heart can withstand a cat begging? The caregiver has to introduce “tough love”, which includes programmes that ensure both caloric restriction and the correct amount of exercise. And, of course, the programme has to be developed together with one’s vet.
The veterinarians’ “bible” is the MERCK VET MANUAL. This book advises that the treatment for obesity should include short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goals are to ensure the dog/cat loses weight and reaches the BCS (see second paragraph above). Long-term goals are to maintain that ideal body condition score.
Lifestyle changes for both caregiver and ward may need modification in our time-for-pet allocations, while maintaining our caregiver/ animal bond. If this is broken, success may not be forthcoming.
Regular monitoring and caregiver diligence are crucial to the prevention and/or reversal of obesity in our companion animals. Of course, the caregivers must be prepared to take that interest, research the matter, and discuss the options with his/her veterinarian to ensure the success of treating obesity of his/her pet.