As with humans, obesity, or excessive weight, in dogs and cats places extra demands on virtually all of the organs of their bodies, resulting in numerous health risks. The risks of pet obesity are serious and often extremely costly, with disease and sometimes death as potential consequences. As is so often the case, it's much cheaper and easier to prevent issues than it is to treat and fix them.
Some cat and dog breeds are genetically predisposed to being overweight, a predisposition that can be made worse by lack of regular exercise and/or overfeeding (including free feeding). All cats have the potential to become overweight, but the problem tends to be more prevalent in mixed-breed cats, Persians, Domestic Shorthair and Manx breeds.
Some of the more popular dog breeds prone to obesity are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, Basset Hounds, Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties), Mastiffs, St. Bernards, Great Danes, Elkhounds, English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Pugs, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles, Shih Tzus, Welsh Corgis, Bichon Frise (Bichons), and Cairn Terriers. Unfortunately, many of the dog breeds prone to obesity are also predisposed to suffering from bone and joint disorders such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.
A weight control plan and/or premium weight management pet food diet such as Flint River Ranch's Adult Cat Lite reduced calorie formula for cats, or Flint River Ranch Senior / Flint River Ranch PLUS premium reduced calorie food formulas for dogs, coupled with regular exercise and plenty of fresh water available at all times, can result in long, healthy, pain- and disease-free lives for your feline and canine companions, as well as the enjoyable absence of several-thousand-dollar surgery bills for you.
Flint River Ranch recommends feeding dogs prone to excessive weight gain or bloating several smaller meals spaced throughout the day (divide the recommended daily portion by the number of meals to be served). While food requirements will vary depending on climate, breed of dog and exercise activity, the key factor is learning to feed an amount that will maintain your dog's weight without adding excess ounces and pounds.
Specific Health Risks Associated with Obesity in Pets
Here's a quick look at some of the many health risks and potential consequences associated with obesity in cats and dogs:
Damage to joints, bones, and ligaments
The bones, joints, muscles, and associated tendons and ligaments all work together to give pets smooth and efficient movement. Excess weight places additional strain on these parts, which can quickly lead to damaged tissue and injuries. Arthritis can develop and the pain and joint changes associated with hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia can become markedly more severe. Approximately 25% of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications.
Extra tension on the joints caused by an increased weight load can also lead to damage of certain ligaments, including the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, which is extremely prone to strains or tears. If this ligament is torn, the knee becomes very unstable and the dog is reluctant to use it. Expensive surgery must be done to repair this torn ligament.
Additionally, some breeds of dogs, such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds, are prone to developing intervertebral disc disease ("slipped discs"). Carrying extra weight increases the probability that these dogs will develop this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.
Overweight dogs have less endurance and stamina. Carrying all that extra weight around takes a lot more work. The heart, muscles, and respiratory system are all asked to do more than they were designed for.
Heart disease and increased blood pressure
As is the case in people, overweight dogs tend to have increased blood pressure (hypertension). The heart has an increased work load since it must pump additional blood to excess tissues, a situation that can lead to congestive heart failure.
Difficulty breathing and increased surgical and anesthetic risk
In overweight animals, the lungs cannot function properly. The additional fat in the chest restricts the expansion of the lungs, while the extra fat in the abdomen pushes against the diaphragm, which separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. This also results in less space in the chest for the lungs to expand when breathing. To make matters worse, the increased quantity of tissue puts an increased demand on the lungs to supply oxygen. These changes are especially serious in dogs that may already have a respiratory disease or are genetically predisposed to developing respiratory disease.
The effects of obesity on the heart and lungs can also have serious ramifications during anesthesia. Cardiac arrest (heart stops) and poor circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues can occur.
Increased risk of cancer and diseases
Numerous studies have linked obesity in pets with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, including cancer of the urinary bladder and mammary tumors. The risk of skin and hair coat diseases also increases in overweight dogs.
Decreased immune function
Excessive weight is also associated with decreased resistance to viral and bacterial infections. For example, both canine distemper and salmonella infections tend to be more severe in obese dogs.
Higher Likelihood of Developing Diabetes
One of the most common complications of obesity in dogs is the development of diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) due to an increase in the demand for and secretion of insulin. When the demand for insulin exceeds the ability of the dog's body to produce it, diabetes can develop. If the need for insulin increases over a long period of time, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin can actually 'burn out.'
While fat tends to be an excellent insulator, excess fat in dogs can make life miserable (especially in the "dog days" of summer) and the dog much less capable of regulating its body temperature.
Digestive disorders and decreased liver function
Overweight pets have an increased risk of developing constipation and may also have more problems with intestinal gas and flatulence, a situation that tends to be unpleasant for both the pet and the pet's owner.
Additionally, obesity can lead to decreased liver function do to an increased amount of fat build-up in the liver (hepatic lipidosis). A fatty liver may not be as efficient at breaking down anesthetics and other drugs, which can make surgery more difficult (and thus more expensive) and can delay recovery in operations.
Finally, obese cats and dogs tend to have more problems giving birth. Pets having difficulty giving birth (known as dystocia) often require veterinary assistance to deliver and may require a cesarean section (C-section).