Obesity dogs the health of household pets
After Scott Stamper’s dog, Kayla, tore a ligament in her knee several years ago, he took her to Dr. Carey Wasem, veterinarian and co-owner of A-rated Zionsville Animal Hospital.
The northside Indianapolis resident paid around $1,500 for surgery, and Wasem issued a dire warning: “I said, ‘If she doesn’t lose weight, the other knee is next.’” Wasem prescribed a drug that suppresses appetite for the 65-pound cocker spaniel mix to contend with her severe obesity, reduced the dog’s food intake by about half, and recommended regular exercise.
Over about four years, the supersized dog dropped to an ideal weight of 32 pounds. “At certain times of day, she’s frisky as heck,” Stamper says. “She likes to play and she’s pretty healthy for a 13-year-old.”
Like people, vets say portly pets increasingly face the ill effects of weight gain, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and shortened life expectancy. A nationwide survey of vets released in February by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that more than half of all pets — 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats — qualified as overweight or obese, or at least 30 percent more than their normal weight. Experts say the epidemic extends to excessively fed fish that go belly up, horses crippled by weight-related hoof and limb injuries and more.
“In the majority of cases, it comes down to diet and exercise,” says Dr. Angela Lennox, veterinarian owner of A-rated Avian & Exotic Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, where exams cost $62. In rare cases, medical issues like reproductive disease contribute, she says. Experts recommend resisting the urge to feed on demand or rely solely on food bag guidelines, which are often formulated for the most demanding life stages, such as pregnancy and growth. Instead, talk to your vet about proper portion size and nutrition. “Just because it’s in the pet store labeled for a certain animal doesn’t mean it’s good for them,” Lennox says.
In addition to taking pets out of their cages to increase activity, Lennox advises owners to encourage foraging by parrots, ferrets and other animals by hiding food around the pet’s cage, for example. Experts say minor changes in diet and exercise can keep weight in check, thereby increasing longevity and saving pet owners money on care.
Obesity-related conditions drive up vet costs, says Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services for Petplan, a highly rated pet insurance company that provides policies nationwide. Treatment for arthritis — a condition exacerbated by aging and extra weight pounding joints — increases vet bills by an average of $2,000 a year, according to Petplan claims data. That includes added tests, vet visits and anti-inflammatory medications exceeding $1,000 annually. Benson says surgery, such as hip replacement that runs $3,000 to $6,000 per joint, drives costs higher still. “One of the most difficult decisions for pet owners to make is having to put a pet to sleep because of crippling arthritis, or joint disease,” Benson says. Some of these decisions, he adds, can be avoided by preventing obesity.