Vet Blog

The High Cost of Pet Obesity

April 17, 2022

Chubby babies and pudgy pets are often adorable, but extra pounds can cause serious health issues, including decreased quality and length of life.

Additional weight can increase your pet's risk for a wide variety of medical conditions, including many that are lifelong, incurable, and costly to treat. Here are 10 of the most common health issues that may affect your overweight or obese pet.

#1: Excess Weight Leads to Orthopedic Damage

Years of carrying excess weight can seriously damage your pet's joints, leading to painful, debilitating osteoarthritis. Additionally, they can suffer from muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries. A knee ligament (i.e., the cranial cruciate ligament [CCL]) is prone to injury and commonly tears or ruptures in overweight pets. If the ligament tears completely, the leg becomes unstable, and difficult for the pet to use. Specialized orthopedic surgery is often required to repair the torn ligament.

#2: Overweight Pets Are More Likely to Develop Hormonal Diseases

One of the most common hormonal diseases overweight pets develop is diabetes mellitus. Being overweight causes increased insulin secretion in response to the increased blood glucose level. When the body's insulin requirement exceeds the body's producing ability, diabetes develops. Other hormonal diseases more likely to occur in overweight pets include hypothyroidism, which frequently develops in overweight dogs, and Cushing's disease, which is associated with increased abdominal fat accumulation.

#3: Additional Weight Puts a Serious Strain on the Heart

Excess weight tends to cause increased blood pressure, putting an additional strain on the cardiovascular system. Heart disease and hypertension are routinely diagnosed in overweight pets. If hypertension goes unnoticed and untreated, high blood pressure can damage the kidneys, brain, and heart.

#4: Pets Who Are Too Heavy Struggle to Breathe Normally

In overweight pets, the additional fat in the chest restricts lung movement, and the extra abdominal fat pushes against the diaphragm that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. This results in less space in the chest for the lungs to expand. In addition, being overweight or obese can exacerbate respiratory conditions, including laryngeal paralysis, asthma, tracheal collapse, and brachycephalic airway syndrome.

#5: High Fat Levels Put a Burden on the Liver

The liver stores fat, so in an overweight pet, more fat builds up in the liver, which results in decreased liver function. Too much fat accumulating in the liver can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition known as hepatic lipidosis, which commonly occurs in obese cats who lose their appetite for any number of reasons.

#6: Overweight and Obese Pets Are at Increased Anesthetic and Surgical Risk

Since excess weight seriously affects the heart, lungs, liver, and other organs, anesthesia and surgery come with an increased risk. Fat absorbs most anesthetic drugs, so an overweight pet will take longer to recover from anesthesia because the body must remove the drugs from the fat. In addition, a fatty liver will be less efficient at breaking down anesthetics and other drugs, so recovery may be delayed.

In terms of the surgery itself, increased fat and tissue amounts make the procedure more difficult. Finding the body structure in an overweight pet can be challenging-for example, during abdominal surgery on an obese dog, inches of fat may block the surgeon from the organ, such as the urinary bladder, that needs the procedure. Not only is the surgery more difficult, but also the procedure will take longer than usual, increasing the anesthetic risk and potential for complications.

#7: Overweight Pets Have Decreased Immune Function

Obesity in pets is directly associated with decreased resistance to viral and bacterial infections. For example, an overweight dog is likely to suffer from more severe illness if they contract canine distemper or salmonella infections.

#8: Skin and Hair Coat Problems Are Common in Overweight Pets

Pets who are overweight often have excess skin folds and wrinkles that can trap moisture and debris, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. In addition, certain weight-related diseases, such as hypothyroidism and diabetes, often cause skin issues. Dogs with hypothyroidism can experience chronic skin infections and dry skin, while cats with diabetes may suffer from fragile skin that can easily tear.

#9: Urinary and Digestive Issues Can Be Caused by Excessive Weight Gain

Many overweight and obese dogs develop a syndrome called urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence, which causes them to leak urine when lying down or sleeping. Pets who are overweight or obese may also struggle to defecate, and can have an increased risk of developing constipation.

#10: Overweight and Obese Pets Have an Increased Cancer Risk

Pets who carry too much weight are at an increased risk for developing certain cancer types, most notably mammary tumors and a particular type of urinary bladder cancer called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC).

Do you need help evaluating your pet's body condition to see if they are overweight? Maybe you're wondering if you're feeding your furry pal too much. Contact our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team to schedule a nutritional consultation.