Handling Obesity in the Pet Care Facility
By Adam Conrad
In recent years, research has shown that one of the most common health issues for pets comes in the surprising form of obesity.
A recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention revealed that over half of all pet cats and dogs in America can be classified as “obese,” with 53% of dogs and 58% of cats falling into that category1.
Anyone working in the pet care industry needs to be aware of the staggering reality of obesity in our furry friends, understand the long-term effects it could have on their health and know ways to help owners prevent it from becoming a problem. Obesity manifests differently and has different health complications between various animals and breeds, and each pet has its own unique physiology that impacts the issues they could face.
Though issues related to obesity start out small, they often have long-term or severe consequences, such as hip dysplasia, certain forms of cancers, and even death. It is the job of pet care professionals to make sure that all animals within their care stay in good health—and there are many warning signs of obesity that will help them do that.
The Overweight or Obese Pet
More often than not, pet owners fail to recognize obesity as a concern for their companions, either because they are not aware of the symptoms or simply do not view it as “that big of an issue.” The ramifications of pet obesity varies; dogs experience different issues from cats, and vice versa; different breeds among these species also experience obesity in different ways. For example, dog breeds such as Labradors or Beagles are susceptible to gaining weight more quickly, while Bulldogs are more susceptible to suffering from respiratory issues.
Problems Associated with Obesity
Obesity in one’s pet could lead to a variety of issues, some potentially fatal, including diabetes, torn ligaments, high blood pressure and a shortened lifespan.
Pet obesity is both a cause and an effect. Though lack of exercise and improper diet can lead one’s pet to develop life–threatening health conditions, it can also be an indicator of other medical issues or a side effect of any medications it may be on.
Weight gain in pets could be a symptom of the following conditions, and warrant a visit to a veterinary professional:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
- Hyperadrenocorticism (overactive adrenal gland, also called Cushing’s disease)
- Arthritis and joint disease
- Back issues
While certain medical conditions may be at fault for some cases of pet obesity, diet is another important factor. If an individual’s pet is showing consistent weight gain and no history of medical conditions listed above, it is likely some aspect of their diet could be the cause. Encourage the pet owner to consult their veterinarian for the best way to put their pet on a healthier, leaner diet.
Pet obesity has been known to result in:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Cardiac issues
- High blood pressure
- Hip dysplasia
- Torn ligaments (particularly the ACL and cruciate ligament)
- Breathing problems
- Back problems
- Liver issues
- Decreased lifespan
Doing Your Part
As a pet care professional, there is more than one way you can help eliminate the issue of pet obesity. The first is having an understanding of good nutrition for all types of pets. While housing or boarding someone’s pet, be sure you know the proper diet to use for them. The second is to have a close bond with community veterinarians. Though being knowledgeable of pet nutrition is a necessity for this profession, it is always best to be able to link pet owners with the medical professionals necessary to provide the best possible counsel to owners.
Feeding in the Pet Care Facility
With a good understanding of pet nutrition, you will know the proper foods to provide to animals left in your care; however, a drastic change in a pet’s diet could cause them to feel slightly ill at first. It is well advised to encourage boarding pet owners to provide an appropriate diet for them to be fed during their stay—for both the pet’s comfort and wellbeing in a new environment.
While some owners will do this, others may not. So it is always preferable to be prepared for this with the best quality, most appropriate foods for the pet. If a pet owner is unsure of what the best option for their pet would be, advise them to seek an opinion from a veterinarian.
Your Role as a Professional
A pet parent’s choice on where to house or board their pet is a very serious decision that requires the utmost trust in your professional capabilities and attention to detail. It provides the unique opportunity to build a relationship with an owner and their pet, and help them in their pursuit of a long, happy life together.
A client may seek your advice on ways to improve the health of their pets after their boarding experience, and that allows you to share your knowledge to benefit the wellbeing of someone’s companion. Do not forget to remain respectful towards the owner, and try not to make them feel guilty if their pet is obese—more often than not, they’re trying to show their pet extra love and affection with treats they like, but it may not be the best for their health.
Always defer the owner to their veterinarian, as they are the most suitable to make medical–based decisions on the best way to improve the pet’s health.
There is a reason we have made the choice to work in pet care—because we love pets! And because of that love, every pet care professional needs to be well-versed and knowledgeable on the topic of nutrition. When a pet owner places their companion in your care, not only are they depending on you to provide the best care possible, the pet is depending on it too!
Adam Conrad is a dad of five Shih Tzu pups and the creator of Shih Tzu Expert (http://shihtzuexpert.com). His passion for helping people in all aspects of dog care flows through in the coverage he provides about dog health issues like Parvo, CDV (Canine Distemper Virus), pet containment systems, dog grooming tools and techniques, and best food for dogs with specific dietary requirements. In his spare time he is an avid scuba diver and a trail runner.