According to the most recent statistics available to veterinarians, over half the dogs and cats walking through the clinic door are overweight or obese. It’s a complicated issue related to diet, lifestyle, and the simple fact that a lot of the times, owners just don’t realize their pet is carrying extra weight.
When I was in school, I remember seeing a beagle on the internal medicine service for a consultation. He had actually presented to the orthopedic surgery service first, because he couldn’t walk. The owners thought he might need hip or knee surgery.
He was 75 pounds. Ideal weight for this breed is - wait for it - under 30 pounds.
I have a hard time believing that not a single general practice veterinarian along the way told these people that the reason their dog couldn’t walk was because he was twice his normal weight, but when the surgeons refused to discuss surgery until they talked to the internal medicine service about weight loss, they acted as if this was a revelation: “Oh! You think this might be related to weight?”
For whatever reason, maybe because they travelled so far and went through multiple conversations with specialists, it finally sunk in that their dog was overweight, and not just a little bit, but so much that they had to roll him around in a Red Flyer wagon because he couldn’t stand up on his own. The head of the internal medicine department was tasked with managing the case, this dog who biggest problem was being owned by someone who couldn’t see what was clear to everyone else in that he was being massively overfed. There were no other metabolic issues, no thyroid disease, just two owners who were close to loving him to death.
Under the supervision of the vet, the dog went on a weight loss program and, when I saw him for a follow up, was down to about 40 pounds. The dog walked into the exam room, happy as a clam, able to breathe and walk once again. The owners were thrilled and declared the vet was a miracle worker. “Did you know,” they said to me with some measure of awe, “That he used to be the equivalent of a 500 pound person?”
Fortunately this is an extreme example; most overweight pets are not nearly that severely affected. But this dog started somewhere too, and had the owners figured out what was going on before it got to that point Ranger would have been saved a lot of discomfort and lost time. The problem a lot of the time is that we are so used to seeing overweight dogs and cats that we have a skewed view of what normal is. People with lean dogs and cats, those in ideal condition, are often asked if their pet is ill.
Vets have made it easy to tell if your pet is overweight or not. You don’t need a complicated BMI score, you don’t need a height/weight chart of different breed standards, all you need is one pair of eyeballs and one pair of hands. Look at your pet from the top. Look at your pet from the side. Feel their ribs. Now compare this to the Body Condition Score chart from the OSU School of Veterinary Medicine, and tell me what number your pet is. If the answer isn’t “3,” it’s time to consult with a vet.
Easy, right? This is a number I record in a pet’s chart every time they come in. It’s as simple as can be and goes a long way in helping us avoid stories like the beagle who was incapacitated by weight.
I have other stories too, like the Akita who topped 100 pounds. Unlike the beagle, he did end up with secondary problems- he ruptured the cruciate ligaments in both knees. Sadly, that case ended up in euthanasia, a terrible ending to a story that was preventable. And this happens every day in clinics across the country.
So now it’s homework time! What’s your pet’s body condition score? And if it’s not ideal, what are the challenges you are facing dealing with the weight?