There was once a time I was pitched for TV shows – on cable and on good ole network TV as a host posing as the Obesity Sheriff. The concept was simple, bring awareness to the public about pet obesity and obesity in general. I was stunned, somewhat honored (more of an ego strum) and then grounded by the feeling that veterinarians were not getting through to clients about all the disadvantages of being even slightly overweight. I have a line of clients trying to get in and see us that want a holistic approach, but all too often still want a pill due to its convenience and simplicity. The truth of the matter is, the answer is simple and it is also right before your eyes if you care to see it.
There are many different topics we can spin out of pet obesity and they would take an infinite amount of well spent time to cover all there is to know about how nutrition and our interaction with our external world effect our overall health. So, in this brief call to action, Ill try to keep the concepts simple yet tease you with other ideas so you can do some self-exploration. Let’s begin with myths about obesity, new concepts about adipose tissue, and simple ways to begin the war on over-conditioned cats and dogs.
For so many years, a little extra weight was considered something that demonstrated wealth and abundance. This light hearted approach has done little since that time to separate itself away from what lies beneath. Even in veterinary medicine, having an overweight pet was deemed to be a cosmetic issue and most people built a response that was a combination of acceptance and apathy. Popular responses surrounding how cute they look when overweight or that its part of the personality and so on. We know now that could not be further form the truth! Fat is more than just “insulation,” it is also a functional biomolecule that has both positive effects and detrimental effects if not kept in balance with the body.
For instance, we know that fat helps insulate the body, provides protection, and also provides a functional building block in cells throughout the body. This is a great thing and I would argue it’s a better energy source than most carbohydrates if given a choice between the two, but what happens when we forget about moderation? Fat can build up and we know now with empirical evidence, it can move throughout the body. Subdermal fat layers when they exceed the body’s capacity can begin to migrate to internal organs. The extra fat layers around organs can interfere with normal organ function. It has been shown with recent studies that if you have enough of this visceral adipose tissue it begins to behave like an endocrine organ, secreting its own hormones that can interfere with normal body metabolism (hence the metabolic diseases like insulin resistance, diabetes, and other chronic inflammatory disease). Fat can produce its own version of inflammatory cytokines! Theoretically, too much extra fat can literally cause pain by producing PGE2, yikes! Okay, so I’m getting nerdy here, but you can see there is a lot we just don’t know yet, and we have not even scratched the surface about how just the sheer weight of extra adipose tissue puts pressure on joints and articulating surfaces in the body that will undoubtedly lead to osteoarthritis.
So what do we do about it? Is it as simple as eating less and doing more? Well, that equation is the base method for weight control and balancing metabolism, but there is more to the story, so let’s talk about prevention and how to remedy the epidemic.
WE used to think that a calorie is a calorie, it’s a way the body measures how much thermogenic energy it is creating and using during normal body processes. But, you can look around you and see so many different examples of differences in energy archetype. Even gas comes in 3 octane levels…it all measures out to gallons and how many gallons you put in your car, but supposedly the higher octane burns cleaner and potentially can give you long term better MPG, or so the theory goes. In our example, it goes beyond marketing and slams at the truth. Take this example. If it takes exactly 100 Kilocalories to swim one length of Barton Springs, you can fuel yourself with a donut, a 2 oz cut of chicken breast, or even half of an energy bar, but what is the best choice of fuel? You can probably weigh out which one will give you better long term results so not each kilocalorie is the same from a functional perspective.
Even though the above is true, this by no means discounts the importance of output and using surplus energy or even feeding to your exact energy requirements. I try to counsel each client on dog or cat breed choice and make sure it fits the lifestyle of the owner. The caveat to this also exists, even if you are a basset hound type of gal, a basset hound still needs a couple of good stimulus providing walks a day, but she does not necessarily need to run five miles at a time. Its not always about the intensity of the walk as much as its about the quality time spent. Exercise is something to be enjoyed and an event you both look forward to each day. It increases the good hormone release that can counter balance stress induced cortisol and other hormones that are potentially harmful when out of balance. Make sure to sit down with your vet and look at how much you feed, actually measure the food, and then look at the nutrient profile. Ask yourself, “IS the fuel matching the amount of work you and your four legged friend endure?.” That is the question!
Finally, weight loss. People are prone to let anthropomorphism creep into their pet’s life. Its totally natural and a hard concept to overcome. Pet diet trends tend to follow human diet trends and that is not always necessarily a great thing, but at least it brings visibility to the issue. My advice? Understand that all things take time, effort, and energy if they are to be appreciated and enjoyed. Therefore, even if you have an overweight dog or cat, know that there is a new journey, a new narrative, and a new door for you to walk through. You do not have to walk quickly to enjoy the view. Take your time with weight loss and enjoy the process. This will give you and your pet more time to adjust to the new body and the new spirit. It will also help you grow this relationship over time and it will become more of a lifestyle than a snap decision. Eat well, walk well, and make sure to smile and greet all that you meet. A life that is lived in an open manner is a life that will be short of regret.
Image credit: Obie the Dachshund