Over half of America’s dogs and cats are malnourished (i.e., overfed) and, as a result, overweight. A gain of only 2-3 extra pounds can have a dramatic effect on the health and lifespan of our faithful companions.
Being a "chunky monkey" myself, I can assure you that losing and keeping off those extra pounds is easier said than done. Unlike human medicine, veterinary research about obesity and the dynamics of pet weight loss and maintenance is in its infancy. Through blogging on The Daily Vet, I want to share what is known and unknown about this complicated process and offer solutions and assistance on this sometimes frustrating journey. Hopefully our weekly discussions will stimulate further veterinary research into this most common chronic disease of pets.
Why Fat Loss is Important
Scientists once thought that fat was just a source of energy and insulation and did little else. We now realize that fat produces over 20 hormone-like chemicals called adipokines. These chemicals increase the activity of the white blood cells of the immune system, as if the body had an infection. This chronic inflammation is the equivalent of living with a fever 24/7/365! It also causes cellular damage to the heart muscle, the kidneys, trachea (windpipe), lungs and internal chest lining, joints and blood vessels in other parts of the body.
Unchecked, this chronic inflammation interferes with the proper functioning of these body organs, often leading to serious illness, lameness, and, potentially, eventual organ failure. Obesity causes insulin resistance that interferes with glucose (blood sugar) entry into cells, and rising blood sugar levels increase the burden of insulin production by the pancreas, possibly leading to pancreatic "burn out" and overt diabetes requiring daily insulin therapy.
Although this theory is still not proven, the link between obesity and diabetes is overwhelming. A link with obesity and high blood pressure (hypertension) has also been established. The result of all of this inflammation, diabetes and hypertension is a poorer quality of life, increased veterinary expenses, and a shortened lifespan for our pets. A 12 year study by a major dog food company confirmed that dogs allowed to become overweight had a lifespan that was almost two years shorter than their lean littermates.
But there is good news: Studies in humans and laboratory rats confirm that weight loss can reverse fat induced changes. Blood markers for inflammation show an immediate and lasting reduction; diabetes and hypertension show similar improvements. These changes occur even before dieters achieve their target weights and last even if they regain some of their lost weight. Although we lack the same experimental confirmation for dogs and cats, owners who have testified to the benefits of increased activity levels for their dieting pets would suggest similar improvements.
Got a "chunky monkey" like me? See your vet for a workable weight loss plan and retrieve some of those quality years together.
To highlight the importance of weight management and health, I will be spending this year dieting along with my patients and, hopefully, your pets as well.
Dr. Ken Tudor