So you made a weight/fitness resolution and you’re following my advice and getting your pet on board. Perfect start. Did you know, though, that most resolutions fail in February? That isn’t to discourage you, it’s simply to let you know that the road gets a little harder. You start to forget about all the cheese platters and candy you ate in December. It’s so dark out. Most years, it’s pretty darn cold out and, honestly, the excitement wears off. So I always like to remind people why it’s important. A dietitian or human doctor can discuss more about human benefits. Likely you can correlate some of them, but there is a reason I went into veterinary medicine, and I’m only here to talk about the animals.
People often ask me how much their pet should weigh. This can be a tough question. I need to feel a pet, see their current body weight, and know what they are eating to answer this correctly.
We give pets a BCS (body condition score) that helps guide us. An ideal is 4-5 out of 9. Pets should have an abdominal tuck when viewed from the side and a waist when viewed from above. Ribs should be felt with minimal pressure, and the same with the spine. Often, what people think is “too thin” is perfect. I often get advised that my own pets are too thin. I assure you that they are exactly perfect because the poor things have me for a mom. Start by giving your pet a BCS. Some of this comes from practice, but you can find very good BCS guides online and start at home too. We are always happy to share our assigned BCS and the reasons why to help guide you.
So, yes, I keep my animals thin. I now have an eagle eye and can tell just by sight if they are up or down much (I also happen to have pet scales conveniently at my work.) I do this because every day I see things happen to pets that we cannot control. Some people might call me a bit of a control freak, so rest assured that when there is an aspect of their health that I CAN control, I will do just that. Just controlling weight actually helps with all of the following.
Pets that are an ideal weight are less prone to developing arthritis. They also maintain better with less pain once arthritis is already present. Exercise also promotes strong muscles and ligaments, which decrease the strain on joints. Regular movement with less weight helps the bones, the cartilage and the joint fluid function more effectively.
Increased fat leads to a higher workload on the heart. It also leads to more fat within the chest and abdomen, which makes it harder for organs to work as efficiently. Overweight cats that stop eating are prone to developing fatty liver disease. In these situations, the body starts mobilizing fat for energy at too high of a rate to make up for what the cat isn’t eating. This, in turn, leads to liver failure.
Fat itself is now recognized as an inflammatory organ. This means that by just being present, excess adipose tissue increases the amount of inflammation the body has to deal with. This leads to many types of health problems, including general immunosuppression. I often feel that people don’t understand the significance of this when I tell them. Essentially, the extra fat that they carry is a ticking time bomb, and while it ticks it throws off harmful rays. I’m not sure if this is true in humans and I pretend it is not, but I have a feeling it likely is the same.
Part of the role that fat plays in cancer isn’t understood and part of it is from the inflammatory activities of fat cells. While cancer is a sad reality in far too many pets’ lives regardless of what we do, we also know that keeping pets at a lean body condition score does decrease their risk of cancer. Cancer has a genetic basis, an environmental basis, and risk factors that we don’t even know about. But, this is one of the things we do know about and can control.
Diabetes, especially in cats, can often be prevented by keeping them at an appropriate weight. While we occasionally see diabetes in pets that are in excellent shape, these are the vast minority. In many cats, we can even convert them out of diabetes with diet alone. It is much easier though if we don’t even have to start.
So, now that you are motivated, remember that weight loss has two components. 1) How many calories go in and 2) how many calories go out. If we start to decrease exercise because of the February blues, we should also decrease their food. Recently, one of my dogs got hurt, so she is on long-term limited exercise. She’s gone from an hour of walking (aka running, very fast) to going outside to go to the bathroom only three times a day. The last thing I want is extra weight on a hurt leg, so as soon as her rest started I cut her food down to compensate. Your pet is never going to say that they need less food because they are exercising less, so although it seems like micromanaging, it is fairly important. Please reach out to your veterinarian if you are unsure of how to proceed. We don’t want pets starving or you getting frustrated at the lack of change. We can and love to help get your pets in better shape