Obesity in Pets

Dr. Mark Kinghorn – SNAP Bloor West/High Park, October 2010

Welcome to the first in a series of articles in which we will take a more critical look at health and nutrition in our pets. The desire to write this series comes from the myths and misconceptions that I hear from pet owners every day in practice. There are SO MANY foods on the market these days ranging from organic and holistic foods, to those that can be purchased from your vet's office, to grain free or grocery store foods. It's sometimes hard to keep them all straight! My goal is not to steer you in one direction or the other but to inform you so that next time you're standing in front of a shelf of food, trying to decide which one to buy, you have more to go on than just which bag looks the nicest. Before we get into reading and interpreting pet food labels though, in this first article, we'll examine the consequences of improper nutrition.

A recent study performed at the University of Glasgow revealed that a staggering 60% of pet dogs are overweight! My experience tells me that this number is almost certainly similar in cats if not higher. Overweight pets are at higher risk for certain diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension, just as in humans. Fat (adipose tissue) was once thought to be a relatively inert tissue, but we now know it is extremely metabolically active, releasing hormones that affect the rest of the body. One of these hormones, adiponectin, is responsible for allowing the body to use insulin. As fat stores increase, adiponectin decreases, predisposing the patient to diabetes as their ability to use insulin decreases.

As well as producing harmful hormones, adipose tissue also produces inflammatory mediators that up-regulate levels of inflammation within the body, particularly within the joints. This is just one of the reasons that overweight pets are more likely to develop arthritis. To add to this, another ground-breaking study completed recently followed two groups of Labrador Retrievers throughout their entire lives. It showed that in the first group which was kept at a lean weight, dogs lived 1-2 years longer than the second group that was consistently overweight. That's 1-2 years MORE quality time with your pet simply because they stay at a healthy weight!!

So next time your favourite companion is sitting next to you at the table during dinner looking sadly into your eyes, longing for a bite of food, give him or her a kiss instead of what's left over on your plate and tell them that you're doing it because you love them, so that there will be many more happy years to come. Join me next month when we'll delve into the often confusing world of pet food labels to find out what all those claims mean, and which ones you can actually believe.

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