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Author: Julija Abram/ loomaarst ja Eesti Väikeloomaarstide Seltsi president


Obesity is one of the most common nutritional diseases in today’s society, prevalent among both humans and pets. It is estimated that in Europe, approximately 40-60% of pets are overweight. I believe that the main problem with obesity is the owners’ lack of knowledge about their pet’s ideal weight/condition and the belief that a slightly rounder pet is also healthy and cute.

Causes of Obesity

Usually, obesity occurs when the daily calorie intake exceeds the amount of energy expended. In other words, the owner may not correctly assess the food offered to the pet, its calorie content, and quantity. Excessive treats are also a common factor. In some cases, diseases affecting the pet’s metabolism can also cause excessive weight gain. Risk factors for obesity include the animal’s age, breed, gender, neutering/sterilization, and the owner’s understanding of nutrition and health, including physical activity, feeding frequency and method, the presence of other pets in the household, and more.

Most commonly, I see owners giving their pets food that does not meet their needs (more energy-rich than necessary) or giving too much food. People attach great importance to the process of feeding their pets, and therefore tend to overdo it with all sorts of treats or offer their pets pieces from their own plates. When all unfavorable conditions are met, the owner, wanting to show love to the pet and do good, may actually do the pet a disservice by overfeeding it, often without even realizing it.

Should we monitor weight or body condition?

The answer is “yes”; we must monitor both together. The term “weight” is understandable to many – we put the pet on a scale and get its body mass. When assessing body condition, the percentage of body fat in the pet is noted. Evaluation is done by palpation and observation. Animals with the same weight can look completely different. For example, a small dog weighing 10 kg may be significantly overweight, while a medium-sized dog weighing 10 kg may be significantly underweight.

Veterinarians use a special scale system from 1-9 to determine body condition, where scale number 1 describes a severely emaciated dog and scale number 9 describes a severely overweight dog. The ideal body condition for dogs is 4-5. If the pet’s body condition does not fit within the scale limits – for example, if it is thicker than described by scale number 9 – the pet’s body condition is noted as higher: for example, 11/9.

 How to assess your pet’s body condition at home

You can assess your pet’s body condition by palpation. There are three simple steps:

  • Place your hands on your pet’s sides (ribs) and stroke gently towards its tail. The rear ribs should be gently felt. If they are too easy to feel, the pet may actually be underweight, although there are breed standards for this as well. For instance, sighthounds and Borzoi should be slightly leaner. If you don’t feel the ribs when stroking, they may be covered by a slightly thick “pad.” It’s important not to press too hard – the ribs should be felt with a gentle stroke. It’s a bit harder to do this check on dogs with dense fur because the fur can affect sensation.
  • Observe the pet from the side – its abdominal line (from chest to groin) should be rising, not horizontal or falling. A small fold of the abdomen is allowed in cats, but even then, the abdominal line should be rising (cats have exceptions, being special as they are).
  • From above, the pet’s waist should be visible. This is where many people use their imagination and find the waist even when it’s not really there.

If you suspect that your pet is not at an ideal weight, seek help from a veterinarian. The pet’s weight can be assessed, for example, during an annual veterinarian visit.

Health problems caused by obesity

Obesity is a major health problem that brings additional health risks, significantly affecting the pet’s quality of life. For example, obesity creates a chronic inflammatory background in the body, which predisposes humans to conditions like cancer.

Obesity also affects the pet’s lifespan (shortens it), can play a role in the development of diabetes, affects breathing and heart function. Overweight animals are at a higher risk of anesthesia complications, making any surgery more complicated and expensive.

For larger breeds (and especially older dogs), obesity puts more strain on the joints, and the pet may experience difficulty and pain when walking, standing up, climbing stairs, and descending.

To understand what it might feel like for an overweight pet, think about an overweight person – they have difficulty moving, their stamina decreases when lifting heavy loads, and their breathing and heart function change. Joint pains and decreased immunity. Many problems disappear when obesity is brought under control.

What to do with an overweight pet?

Owners often do not notice their pet’s obesity. Instead, they may hear this comment from visiting friends or relatives. It’s a kind of “chicken blindness,” where the owner simply does not see this change, just as we don’t see, for example, our own children’s growth because we live with them every day. Pointing out obesity may also occur during a veterinarian visit. If so, then the veterinarian is the right source to inquire about how to proceed with an overweight pet.

At the veterinarian’s office, various conditions that may cause or promote obesity are first ruled out, and then the pet’s feeding plan is reviewed. Adjustments may be made to the food, quantity, and feeding schedule as needed. Some pets may only need a review of the feeding plan to achieve normal weight. But some dogs require more effort because they feel very strong hunger, and the search or begging for food may be extremely annoying for the owner. In such patients, the feeling of hunger must be satisfied while adhering to the prescribed daily calorie intake.

Options include offering wet food instead of dry food to the pet, or replacing part of the pet’s daily food needs with wet food. Weight-loss wet foods offer the pet a feeling of fullness at the expense of water volume, and such canned foods provide fewer calories per gram.

A very pleasant alternative is FoodStudio dog broths, which contain 0 fat and therefore this broth is very good as a snack or appetite booster poured over dry food. Weight-loss foods for dogs are often higher in fiber and lower in fat, which makes the food somewhat less palatable. Pouring broth improves the pet’s willingness to consume weight-loss food, while the broth does not add significantly to the calorie intake.

Broth can be frozen on an ice cube tray and offered as cubes to the pet as a great activity to dispel boredom and develop mental work. In this way, broth can be frozen into smaller cubes for smaller dogs and into a larger plastic container for larger dogs. During the weight-loss period, broth can almost completely replace giving treats (veterinarians usually prohibit all treats), while still feeling that the owner can reward the pet without excessive calorie intake. Different flavors allow each owner to find the broth that best suits their pet.

Pet obesity is an increasingly discussed topic, with a significant role in prevention falling on the pet owner. Regularly visit the veterinarian and ask for their opinion and assistance in preventing or managing obesity. Make sure beforehand that the pet does not have any other health problems that could promote obesity. Follow the feeding quantity guidelines on the food package and adjust the amount of food as needed. Prevention is always cheaper and easier than dealing with the problem.