Obesity: Is my Pet too Fat or too Thin?
Obesity is possibly the main problem causing premature death in both dogs and cats.
Feeding raw is an easy way to control animals being overweight, we think because of the lack of carbohydrates (starch) in the diet but there are some individuals who will not lose as much weight as we would like without a little more thought.
Obesity can lead to other problems including inflammation, arthritis and cancer due to the release of adipokines. Reducing the amount of fat reduces the production of these chemical Ref
Use a Body Condition Score chart to see if your pet is over (or under) weight:
You should be able to feel the ribs with gentle pressure but not see them
So what causes a pet (and humans) to be overweight?
More calories in than out is of course the main reason but things have been shown to be more complicated recently and there are other factors that come into play:
1) CALORIE INTAKE :
- Don't just rely on the label: Calorie counts on the nutrition labels on food products often vary from the real number of calories in the food.
- Individual variation: Individual animals will process calories quite differently due to genetic, microbial, and environmental differences. This means that if you have two same-sized dogs, it is possible for one to lose weight and one to gain weight on calorie-equivalent diets.
- Not all Calories are the Same: Many studies (in dogs, cats, people) have taken two groups of study participants and put them on two different diets, but both with the same number of calories. The study participants on the carbohydrate-restricted diets lost more body fat, and retained more lean muscle mass than the groups on higher carbohydrate diets. The TYPE of calories consumed is key.
2) HORMONES & FOOD
Whether a fat cell releases its contents for energy use, or stores them as fat (promoting weight gain), is largely determined by hormones - such as insulin, oestrogen and testosterone.
Insulin has been identified as the most influential in stimulating fat storage. Food intake largely determines insulin response. Insulin is produced mostly in response to carbohydrate intake (and a lesser amount for protein intake). Cereal grains in particular cause large insulin spikes.
3) INDIVIDUAL VARIATION
- Certain genes within the DNA of mammals (including dogs) have been shown to predispose individuals to weight gain.
- Genes within the trillions of microbes (microbiome) living within mammals help determine how efficient an animal is at extracting energy from their food, and how likely they are to store more fat.
More efficiency means potentially more weight gain. Many things can alter the microbiome - antibiotics may contribute to the obesity epidemic via their effects on microbes.
- The contribution of exercise to weight control is much smaller than previously thought. There is a lot of science showing the benefits of exercise for overall health, but scant evidence to show that exercise is effective for long-term weight control.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Of all the factors mentioned above - the only one that you can't change is the genes within the DNA (although the expression of these genes can be influenced by external factors).
According to Gary Taubes, calorie restriction drives hunger - so an easier approach to weight loss is to focus on the type of calories (bearing in mind that even 'good' calories can promote weight gain if they are eaten to excess). The best calories for weight control come from high quality, species-appropriate proteins and fats. A healthy diet will also support good microbiome health, which in turn will support the immune system, thus reducing the likelihood of needing antibiotics.
You can read more about food, hormones and dog obesity in this book. You can read more about obesity in cats here.
So what can you do - Yes feed less exercise more but also worry less.
Avoid the fattier meats but not completely
Your dog and cat really has to be very thin for you to be seriously worried. I often get clients coming into the vets asking about their dog being too thin and is is extremely rare I have agreed with them. The thinner we are the longer we live in the main. If your pet has a good muscle mass, is fit and active it is nothing to worry about if there body score is less than 3.
When should you be worried?
• If your pet has experienced unexplained weight change (in either direction) the change may be indicative of an underlying disease process.
• If your pet is very lean, and not well muscled.
• If your pet lacks energy for normal activities.
• If your pet is often unwell.
• If you have noticed anything unusual about your pet's appetite (a lean, but ravenous cat may have thyroid issues), or their thirst/drinking habits.