Animal obesity – a growing problem

 Messenger photo by Whitney Wilson Coy
 Lucky, a 15-year-old cat weighs a whopping 27 pounds. Recent studies say that nearly 40 percent of American pets are obese.

Have you noticed the bigger humans get, the bigger their pets get?

Recent studies suggest that 25 to 40 percent of American pets are now obese.

"It’s a significant number and I’ve seen more and more cases lately," said Dr. Tony Buffington, veterinarian and nutritionist with The Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital.

So how do you know if your pet is considered obese? Buffington explained that professionals look to Body Conditioning Scoring (BCS). The BCS goes from one to five, one being emaciated and five being obese. In an emaciated animal, you will see obvious ribs, pelvic bones, and a backbone. There is no body fat or muscle mass. In a thin pet (BCS #2), you will notice ribs and pelvic bones, but the backbone is less prominent. A thin pet will have an hourglass waist and a tucked-up abdomen.

A moderate-sized pet (BCS #3), you will notice a less prominent hourglass and abdominal tuck but you can feel the ribs without excess fat covering them. A stout pet (BCS #4), will have a general fleshy appearance. The hourglass and abdominal tuck is hard to see. You can feel the ribs with difficulty. An obese pet (BCS #5), has a sagging abdomen and large deposits of fat over the chest, abdomen and pelvis.

"Basically, how hard do you have to feel to feel the bone," said Buffington of the BCS. "In an obese pet, you feel nothing but flesh."

Obesity is associated with ailments such as joint disease in canines and diabetes in felines.

"There is not enough information to say obesity causes this or causes that – every animal is individual," Buffington noted.

He said preventative care is the way to approach obesity and problems that may follow.

"It’s like driving a car without a seatbelt. As long as you don’t hit anything – you’re fine."

There are some viruses and conditions that could contribute to obesity, but in most cases, it is the result of too much food and not enough exercise.

"Pets eat when they are stressed and share food with people," Buffington explained. "Our own lifestyles come in to play as well. If our life is chaotic, that bleeds over to our pets."

The Pet Center, a Web site made by veterinarians, explained that studies suggest a high quality meat-based diet that is low in carbohydrates is best for pets. It explains that cats do not break down carbohydrates like humans or even dogs, yet it is in most packaged food. Buffington said there is no evidence that links carbohydrates to weight gain. He said each dog and cat will have individual needs and people concerned about their pet’s weight should consult their veterinarian.

"If you take away five calories per pound, per day, that should give your pet a 10 percent weight loss," said Buffington. "Eat less, stay active and reduce stress – that is what pets need."

Exercise is important in pet weight loss. It is easy to take a dog for a walk and get them moving, but what about cats? Buffington, along with the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, created a Web site,, which gives suggestions as to how to get your cat active. It explains that you need to carve out playtime with your feline. You could teach your cat to play fetch, attach a toy to a shoelace and drag it around, play hide and seek or even let your cat chase a laser pointer.

"The site gets owners thinking about ways to get their cat active and allows them to have fun in the process," said Buffington. For more ideas, check out the Web site.

Buffington said every day humans are bombarded with food messages and our lifestyle affects our pets. He said to keep your pet healthy stop weight gain and induce weight loss.

"A loss of just 10 percent of body weight reduces health risks. There are plenty of ways to express our love for our pets, other than food."

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