Obesity can improve survival rates …really??

Presenter – Valerie Parker DVM, DACVIM, DACVN, Assistant Professor, Clinical Small Animal Internal Medicine, Ohio State University

Tips on how to assess and manage cases of obesity in cats and dogs were abundant in last week’s veterinary webinar led by Valerie Parker from The Ohio State University who provided an excellent overview of the general management of the increasingly encountered obese pet.

One of the stand out ‘tips’ provided by Valerie was a short-cut method in assessing an animal’s body condition score (BCS) based on the 9 point scale. This starts by making a fist and feeling over your knuckles. If on gentle pressure the ribs of a cat or dog feels like your knuckles, then the BCS for that particular animal correlates to a score of 3/9, indicating the animal is too thin. However if you then put your hand palm down and feel over the top of your knuckles, this would correlate with the ribs of an animal with a healthy BCS of 5/9. Finally if you place your hand down and palm up, the feeling over the knuckle area of your palm correlates to the feeling of the ribs of a dog or cat with a BCS of 7/9 indicating an animal is overweight.

This advice provided by Valerie seems an excellent way to explain to owners what to look for when trying to assess their animals BCS. Owners can then judge for themselves that their animal is overweight with a BCS of 6/9 or 7/9 being classed as overweight and a BCS of 8/9 or 9/9 being considered obese.

Valerie also advised that when assessing a pet’s BCS it is important to be honest with a client, despite the fact that this may sometimes make us uncomfortable. There will always be a long list of diseases we can state to clients which are associated with obesity including an increased risk of diabetes and orthopaedic disease. However, stating that their animal’s life expectancy may well be reduced is likely to create the biggest impact. Valerie cited a study published in 2002 where 48 Labrador puppies were assigned into two groups. One group was fed ad lib and the other group was fed 25% less. The labs were then followed through their life until death. The ad lib group had a median life span of 11.2 years and the group fed 25% less had a median life span of 13 years.

Managing obesity cases starts with working out an ideal body weight for that overweight or obese pet. Valerie explained on the 9 point scale, each BCS accounted for 10-15% body weight. So a 31kg dog with a BCS of 8/9 has an ideal body weight of 31 x 0.7 which equates to 21.7kgs. Valerie also advises when deciding on a weight loss plan, treats should make up < 10% of the total calorie intake. The calorific value of treats must always be checked as Valerie found some treats sold in the USA were as much as 1200 kcals per treat.

Valerie gave incredibly useful advice on  managing obesity cases and she ended the webinar with a concept I was completely ignorant of; ‘The Obesity Paradox’. It is clear that obesity does predispose pets to disease but she explained that once a chronic wasting disease has been diagnosed, obesity may actually improve survival rates. For this reason animals with chronic illnesses should not be put on extreme weight loss plans. With these animals, Valerie will aim to get them to a condition score of 7/9 and no lower. I found this fascinating, and if you want to hear more of the same then I strongly urge you to log into ‘The Webinar Vet’ and take an hour of your time to watch this veterinary webinar.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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