Dr. Sydney Routley: Obesity in pets


Did you know that the majority of pets today are overweight, and it's so common that when many people see animals who are a healthy weight, they think they are too skinny? 

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Why is extra weight a big deal? In our furry friends, carrying extra weight can contribute to a variety of conditions such as: liver issues, breathing difficulty, arthritis, and diabetes. A veterinarian can teach you what to look for in order to determine what is a healthy weight, and what to use as guidelines for weight loss.

Several factors work together to contribute to weight gain. Overall, the animal’s individual metabolism, the amount of food they eat and their activity level are the biggest contributors to the final weigh-in. Thankfully, your pet’s activity level and amount of food they get are in your direct control.

Taking your dog for a walk and playing with your cat are very enjoyable ways to spend time with your pets, and are often highlights of your pet’s days. Outdoor activities for dogs, like walking or going on a hike are fun ways to spend summer days. Often, activity level decreases in winter with the cold and the dark, and some of our furry friends no longer enjoy the outdoors. This decreased activity level is easy to compensate by decreasing the amount of food they get before they start to gain that pesky ‘winter weight’.

Controlling the amount of food that our animals eat is the easiest way to control their weight. Often the amount of food recommended on the back of the bag is too much for the average house pet. Leaving the food out all the time usually results in excessive weight. Controlling portion size for meals is a big deal, but controlling the amount of treats and table scraps is also important. In general, treats should be no more than 10% of the diet. It’s important to remember that even though most animals really enjoy food, they do not need excess amounts, and giving them more food does not mean giving them more love. 

An animal’s individual metabolism is something that is less controllable. One thing that does decrease an animal’s metabolism is getting them spayed or neutered. There are many benefits to getting animals altered, and the decreased metabolism does not have to mean extra weight gain, if the amount of food given is reduced. 

Can animals lose weight too quickly? We don’t usually have to worry about dogs losing weight too quickly, but cats are a different story. If overweight cats lose weight too rapidly, they can get into some trouble with their liver. Slowly decreasing the amount of food fed every month can be a safe way to go about it. Usually increasing activity level is not a problem, so feel free to play with your critters as much as possible. Wand toys and other toys that promote exercise can be great tools for cats, and fun for everyone.

Now, what if you have increased your dog’s activity level and have decreased their food portions, and there does not seem to be any weight loss? Your dog may even be lethargic and not want to go for long walks, and perhaps has a bad hair coat. Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects metabolism that causes excess weight gain. This condition is treatable, usually easily managed, and can be diagnosed with a blood test. Often, with treatment, dogs’ energy levels dramatically increase and they are able to get to a lean body weight. 

Remember you are in control of your pet’s weight. Controlling the food is the easiest way to manage it, and increasing activity level can be the most fun way to help.

Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004.

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