Being overweight is a familiar problem for humans worldwide, but did you know it affects our pets, too? Obesity is a condition characterised by excessive body fat accumulation and storage and affects most creatures in the same way; respiratory problems, lethargy, loss of mobility, and intolerance for exercise. These symptoms typically lead to developing secondary conditions, decreased longevity, and a decline in the pet’s quality of life.
Pet obesity is not a new problem, but in recent years it has become so normalised that many pet owners don’t realise their pet is overweight. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) calls this misalignment between a healthy body and what we think our pet should look like the “fat pet gap.” With severe consequences such as chronic kidney disease, arthritis, diabetes, heart failure, and cancer, pet owners must be educated on the proper weight for their pets.
Why is Obesity so Dangerous?
Although we know obesity is ‘bad’ for a pet, it’s not something many people would classify as a major health crisis. However, the reality is that pet obesity has become an epidemic, affecting animals all around the globe and is getting worse year on year. We must stop overlooking obesity and normalise a healthy weight; our pets’ lives depend on it.
One of the things that makes obesity so dangerous is that excess weight is highly pro-inflammatory. An excess of macronutrients in the adipose tissue stimulates the release of inflammatory mediators, which bring the tissues into a state of inflammation and oxidative stress. Both of these cause cell and tissue damage leading to more inflammation and the development of lifelong diseases.
Additionally, with 70-80% of the body’s immune cells living in the digestive tract, overeating which contributes to obesity, can encourage an overacting immune system. An increased immune response tells the body to generate more inflammation, which further advances the cycle of severe damage in the body caused by chronic inflammation.
Please read How Gut Health Affects Immunity for more information on the connection between your pet's digestive health and immunity.
We know that obesity is bad because it increases inflammation which damages cells in the body, but in reality, that’s just the beginning. Excess weight, especially obesity, reduces almost every facet of health, affecting your pet’s daily life and long-term welfare. These consequences come in varying levels of severity, from relatively mild issues like decreased stamina and heat intolerance to painful progressive diseases and cancers.
Because obese pets need more blood to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients, blood pressure is increased, and cardiac health suffers. Excess weight, even just a couple of kilos, can significantly increase the pressure on their joints, which makes them more likely to develop osteoarthritis. The extra fat and weight can increase abdominal pressure, which squeezes and flattens internal organs such as the bladder and stomach, hindering a pet’s ability to function properly.
Many pets become obese because they lack adequate exercise to burn off excess macronutrients. Extended periods of inadequate or minimal activity will cause surplus fats to accumulate in the body and lead to weight gain. Many severely obese animals cannot do much more than walk and will become fatigued with even light exercise.
Because obesity features a loss of mobility, it's much better to ensure your pet gets plenty of exercise before they become overweight. Getting daily exercise also helps strengthen the cardiac and respiratory systems as the heart and lungs work to supply oxygen to working muscles. A few great ways to ensure your pet gets enough exercise are walking, indoor or outdoor games of fetch, hiking with you, and swimming.
Equally important to enough physical exercise is making sure your pet eats a healthy, balanced diet. Not only is food important as fuel to sustain the body, but specific nutrients play a key role in the health of the body, even down to a molecular level. Remember that your pet’s dietary needs are unique based on their breed, gender, age, and activity levels and will likely need to be adjusted throughout their life.
If your pet eats a commercially prepared diet, it has been specially formulated to include everything they need in their diet and at the correct ratios. If you choose to prepare your pet’s food at home, you should work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the diet is correctly balanced for everything your pet needs to be healthy.
Pets who develop obesity or other health conditions are often placed on a strict diet designed to cater to their needs. Animal nutritionists typically recommend feeding your pet a low-calorie diet to encourage weight loss rather than providing less of their regular diet. Changing the diet rather than the amount will better meet your pet's nutritional needs as they escape obesity.
Have a look at our Top 10 Superfoods for Pets.
If you are ensuring your pet gets adequate physical exercise and a healthy, balanced diet but want to give your pet a boost, you can try giving them dietary supplements. Supplements can be any substance taken to improve health or wellness, but for pets, they usually contain multivitamins, probiotics, glucosamine, and omega fatty acids. With an enormous variety of pet supplement options on the market, finding one you and your pet like shouldn’t be too difficult.
Recently, supplementing your pet’s diet with oil has gained a lot of popularity. Fish oil and hemp seed oil are popular options thanks to their high omega fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. For a condition such as obesity, hemp seed oil makes an excellent choice for several reasons.
Hemp seed oil is nutrient-dense, high in fibre, and anti-inflammatory, all beneficial when managing obesity. The rich nutrients of hemp seed oil ensure your pet gets enough of everything they need to be healthy. The hemp’s naturally high fibre levels help regulate appetite by modulating gut hormones and keep your pet feeling full for longer. Perhaps the most significant benefit is the anti-inflammatory properties of hemp seed oil, primarily attributable to the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
Another wonderful derivative from hemp seed is seed protein - a delicious, natural prebiotic (fibre) that helps promote the biodiversity of your pet's gut microbiome to support digestive health. At BUDDYPET, we recommend Cooper, a blend of Tasmanian hemp seed protein and chickpea flour.
Talk to your vet before adding new foods or supplements to your pet’s diet, especially if they are on a vet specialist diet or medications.