Identify at-risk patients when battling obesity in companion animals - DVM
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Identify at-risk patients when battling obesity in companion animals
Nutritional management takes awareness, assessment, accurate accounting of pet's caloric intake


DVM InFocus


Many of the pet food companies have created posters and handouts that illustrate the appearance of patients at the different body condition scores. Most of these systems are based on either a 5 or 9-point system. Each subsequent point on the 5-point scale represents an increase or decrease depending on direction of 20-30 percent in body fat above or below ideal (i.e. 1 very thin and 5 obese). Each subsequent point on the 9-point scale represents an increase or decrease depending on direction of 10-15 percent in body fat above or below ideal (i.e. 1 emaciated and 9 grossly obese). Clients should be given a handout and shown where their pet falls on the chart.

The goal of any plan should be the improved health of the patient.

For some patients this may not be the return to an ideal body weight, but instead the reduction in clinical signs associated with some disease process or a reduction in risk for the development of disease.

It must be remembered that a weight loss plan that achieves any weight reduction has inherently been successful. Weight loss can be quite difficult to achieve in some patients and/or be very slow, thus, even slight weight reductions should be celebrated.

  • Accurate accounting

Once a client recognizes that his or her pet is overweight and may benefit from weight loss, there is a potential for the development of guilt and concern that the veterinarian will blame him or her for their pet's weight.

The main effect of this guilt is a lack of accurate accounting of a patient's complete daily/weekly diet.

Unfortunately, patients vary greatly with regard to energy requirement for weight stability (presented in Lewis et al. 1987); thus, if you receive an inaccurate or incomplete diet history from the client, there is an increased risk that recommendations for amounts to feed will result in weight gain, weight stability or weight loss at too rapid a rate. This is due to the inherent variability in energy requirement for the individual patient. The best method is to use the patient's current caloric intake to make recommendations.


Table 1 Recommendations for Caloric Restriction by Company (Assumed 10 lb. cat and 20 lb. dog with a BCS of 8/9)
Caloric Intake for Weight Loss Eighty percent of current caloric intake (Table 1). Note, if the calculation results in a value below 50 percent of RER (RER = 70 x BWkg3/4), a careful review of the patient's health status (blood work, physical) and the accuracy of the diet history should be undertaken. Severe caloric restriction can result in both metabolic rate and activity changes that may prevent weight loss without concurrently making a patient extremely lethargic.

Most patients undergoing weight reduction should be at least as active as they were prior to the initiation of the plan or more often they will be more active.

In addition, special care must be made in cats to ensure that weight loss is not so rapid as to increase the risk of developing hepatic lipidosis. An obese cat should never be allowed to become anorexic under the pretext that it will be beneficial for weight loss. Anorexia in an obese cat should be closely monitored. The risk of developing hepatic lipidosis should be discussed with the client at the start of any weight loss plan.

Weight Loss Rate The rate of loss (usually 1-2 percent of body weight per week) is based on traditional clinical recommendations that were designed to maintain lean body mass and preferentially burn fat mass.

In addition, it appears that the slower the rate of weight loss, the less the body responds by slowing the metabolic rate and the less hungry the patient seems. Thus, a slower rate of weight loss potentially decreases the likelihood of weight rebound and increases the likelihood of client compliance.


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Source: DVM InFocus,
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