Is too much fat bad for our pets?

Fat catWhat we call ‘fat’ is medically referred to as ‘white adipose tissue’, but until recently we thought fat stored excess energy and just made your pet ‘big’. The idea was that fat was physiologically inert.

But then scientists discovered that fat plays an enormous role in the body as producer of hormones and inflammatory agents. Fat also produces hormones such as angiotensinogen, which plays a role increasing blood pressure, and suddenly a host of diseases enter the picture. Being overweight is a marker for a shorter and unhealthier life.

Why do pets become overweight?

There are many reasons for being overweight and these include physiological issues such as slowing metabolism, hormonal disorders and spaying or neutering. But in most instances weight-related problems are the result of two simple, all-too-common factors: too much food and not enough exercise.

Overeating for a dog is really a matter of overfeeding. Lack of exercise is sadly also the fault of owners who keep pets cooped up.

So when is fat bad?

Obesity can be defined as an excess of body fat that leads to disease. In humans that is defined as being 20% overweight. The prevalence of obesity in dogs and cats ranges between 25 and 40%, but is increased in the five- to 10-year age group (middle-age spread). As many as half of all pets in the USA are overweight. A recent study found that veterinarians considered 47% of their patients to be overweight. Yet only 17% of the owners agreed.

Interestingly lean dogs live longer, healthier lives than those who are overweight.

So why is fat bad for you?

For years we thought of fat as being excess baggage, the excess weight mechanically weighed down on joints and the spine causing joint surface deterioration and eventually osteoarthritis. The presence of large amounts of fat in the abdominal and thoracic cavities leads to internal organs being squashed and their function limited. We now know that fat tissue releases inflammatory mediators. These mediators initiate and drive chronic low grade inflammation throughout the body.

Health problems related to the musculoskeletal system include disc disease, ruptured cruciate ligaments, hip dysplasia and other forms of joint disease, and surgical complications. Included in health risks are chronic airway disease in dogs, obese dogs are much more susceptible to heat stress due to the insulating effects of fat, and fat cats are unable to groom leading to skin disease.

Diseases associated with obesity in pets are:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Diabetes mellitus, especially in cats
  • Hyperlipidaemia
  • Osteoarthritis and orthopaedic disease
  • Dermatitis
  • Oral disease in cats
  • Lower urinary tract disease
  • Cardiovascular changes
  • Renal pathology
  • Pancreatitis
  • Neoplasia

Text: Lorren Barham, animal hydrotherapist at Pet Wellness Worx

The full article appears in the May issue of AnimalTalk.

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