5 Quick Facts: Why Extra Pounds Are Hurting Your Pet
28 November, 2016

Guest Blog by Christie Long, Chief Veterinarian at PetCoach

Pet Obesity has been implicated as a predisposing factor in many diseases.  For dogs, the list includes may things you would expect, such as difficulty giving birth (dystocia) and constipation, but also things you wouldn’t such as salmonella, SARDS (a sudden and permanent loss of vision), and urinary incontinence. For cats, the list includes diabetes, fatty liver disease and a serious constipation related problem called megacolon.  Both have been prone to developing a specific kind of kidney and/or bladder stone.

Below are five different ways that  being overweight can hurt your pet:  

Overweight pets get sick more often

When veterinary researchers study specific diseases, one of the most important things they attempt to establish is something called correlation. That means they’re looking at different factors about the animal, including the environment, genetics, and trying to determine whether any those factors make it more likely that the animal will get the disease.  And, obesity is one of those correlative factors that causes pets to get sick more often.

Overweight pets have more joint problems

Not only does being overweight exacerbate the pain associated with arthritis, it also predisposes pets to a number of problems that can end up causing arthritis. That’s what we call a “vicious cycle,” and it’s vicious, indeed.

A number of orthopedic problems occur at increased frequency in overweight dogs, including hip and elbow dysplasia. But perhaps the most obvious association occurs between fat dogs and torn ACL’s. The anterior cruciate ligament, as it’s called in humans (it’s actually known as the “cranial cruciate ligament” in pets) shreds itself with startling frequency in overweight dogs. And what’s worse, 60% of dogs that tear the ACL in one knee will tear the same ligament in the other knee within one year. That’s about $5000 – $6000 in surgical costs in most areas. And most of these dogs go on to develop some degree of arthritis, even with surgical repair – much more without.

Pets that are overweight tend to live shorter lives

The numbers don’t lie: fat pets don’t live as long. In 2015, a study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) concluded that of the cats designated by their veterinarians as either overweight or obese, only 16.5% were between 12 and 15 years old, and only 6.6% were over 15. For dogs, the numbers were 13.2% and 1.1%, respectively.

Where are the old fat pets? Are they slimming down as they get older? Likely not. The more plausible explanation is that these pets are either dying due to obesity-related health problems (see above) or being euthanized due to the inability to effectively manage the clinical signs associated with those diseases.

Overweight pets make it harder to detect other illness

All that fat acts like a pet-encompassing pillow, making it difficult to feel internal organs and hear things like abnormal heart rhythms and lung sounds. So the veterinarian is at a disadvantage when it comes to early disease detection in these patients. It’s also tough to feel lumps and bumps on fat pets, so we often miss tumors at their earliest stages of growth, when they are easier to deal with.

And it’s worth mentioning that surgery on overweight and obese pets takes longer, mainly because fat is highly vascular, meaning that it has a robust blood supply, and it subsequently bleeds a lot. That means that it takes more time to do what we need to do, because we’re dealing with more bleeding, instead of the problem at hand.

Obese Pets have a harder time breathing

Obesity makes a number of respiratory problems worse. Probably the most infamous is the array of anatomical issues that make up brachycephalic airway syndrome, which occurs in both dogs and cats with short noses. Extra fatty tissue, especially around the head and neck (think: English Bulldogs) puts extra work on an already compromised respiratory system, making it even more difficult to move air.

Overweight pets are also at an increased risk of overheating and heat stroke, regardless of their anatomy.

If you have questions about this or any other topic, you can ask vets for free on PetCoach!

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