At different points during the year, many of us resolve to shed some extra pounds. The weeks after holiday feasts or long vacations are a great time to get motivated and moving, as well as pick the right foods to make us healthy. The same can be said for our pets. Obesity is not a disease limited to humans, as I see many different animal species come in to the clinic carrying some extra weight. There are many health concerns related to carrying extra ounces or pounds. Overweight body conditions can: lead to reduced energy and playfulness; predispose pets to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease; exacerbate signs of arthritis in the older pets; lead to foot sores and pressure sores on feet from carrying the extra weight; and in some pets make it hard to groom and stay clean. One of the worst cases of obesity I have seen was a bunny that presented for the inability to move. The reason he could not move was because he weighed twice the amount he should have, and he could not physically get his legs under him to move. Although this is an extreme example, many pets do come in carrying some extra weight, and as they get older, each year they are more overweight than the last.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to turn the tide on obesity in our pets. Your veterinarian can formulate a nutritional plan that is right for you and your pet. In the case of the obese pet rabbit, we worked on a plan that consisted of unlimited timothy hay, weaning him off of the pellets, and offering some leafy greens in the diet. Removing fruit and all processed treats (like yogurt drops) were also part of the plan. The next time this bunny came in for re-evaluation, he was able to hop around on his own accord, and then we were able to add in exercise to his plan as well.
Often, a weight loss plan in my exotic and avian patients relies heavily on proper nutrition. By providing the diet that meets the needs of the species, we can prevent obesity and other health concerns early on. I recommend that any newly adopted pet should have an appointment with the veterinarian, not only for a physical exam but also to consult on prior diet and nutrition. This will set the foundation for healthy eating habits for the rest of your pet’s life. However, it is never too late to work on changing the diet and weight reduction if you have an older pet that has started to put on some weight. So this year, let’s all resolve to help our pets eat better and make the right choices, just like us.
By Meredith Davis, DVM Caring Hands Animal Hospital