There is a friend of mine who brings his pug to me about every 3 months complaining of a chronic cough. He will show me (Perry Jameson) videos of the coughing and explain how worried he is when Roscoe has a coughing fit.
About two years ago, I diagnosed Roscoe with chronic bronchitis and collapsing trachea. Both of these diseases are problems I cannot cure. Our goal (mine and Roscoe’s dad is) is to control the coughing as best we can so that Roscoe has a good quality of life.
So every three months when I see Roscoe, I go over all the things we can do to improve his symptoms. Are you only using a leash to walk Roscoe, as a collar will compress his trachea, stimulating a cough? Are you avoiding respiratory irritants like smoke and heavy scents? Are you giving him his cough suppressants and bronchodilators as prescribed?
His dad always answers “yes” to each of these questions. The last question I ask always makes him uncomfortable. I do not need to ask as I already know the answer as the scale never lies. Have you been working on getting his weight down like we talked about at his last visit?
Over the past two years, Roscoe has not lost any weight and actually put on two pounds. Dad hems and haws that he can only get his pills into him in treats. He cannot go on walks as the weather is too hot and humid. He tried to put him on the food I recommended but Roscoe will only eat it when Dad puts some of his own dinner on top.
Those extra calories in the pill pockets and table scraps gradually add up over the years. When combined with decreased exercise and the normal decreasing metabolism of age, Roscoe gains weight.
Roscoe and his dad are not alone. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention conducted its 10th annual survey in late 2017. They found that 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs were obese. When asked if they had tried to get their pets to lose weight, 58 percent said “yes”.
What was discouraging to hear for me was that 48 percent of pet owners said their veterinarian never discussed the proper diet with them.
So it’s not all Mom and Dad’s fault. Weight management must be a team approach with both the care providers and owners being involved.
Telling a person that their pet is overweight is an uncomfortable conversation to have, especially as in Roscoe’s case where I have had to do it repeatedly. Many times the parents are dealing with their own weight issues, making the topic even more uncomfortable. However, as the medical professional, we have to get past this and be honest or nothing will change.
Our recommendations must be specific as to exactly how much food can be fed and what, if any, snacks are allowed. Just telling parents to “feed less” is not good enough. Exercise recommendations also should be specific. Rechecks should be scheduled so that progress can be tracked by measuring weight and body condition scores and adjustments made as needed.
As with most things, it is much easier to talk about than do. I know when my dog Flipper gives me those puppy-dog eyes, he wants that pizza crust I did not finish. I must admit that many times I give in, and when I do not, it takes some extreme willpower.
Even though it makes him so happy, I must tell myself the chronic problems obesity will cause him outweigh that momentary pleasure. I want him to be with us for years and for those later years to be healthy. It is a terrible sight to see an overweight elderly pet that can barely stand from its arthritis because it is carrying more weight than its bones were designed to support.
Have your veterinarian calculate the exact number of calories she wants your pet to consume daily to reach or maintain the desired weight. Remember those pill pockets, treats and table scraps (like Flipper’s pizza crust!) count towards that totally.
Also, have them come up with an appropriate way to increase your pet’s activity level. For older dogs, it may be a short walk while younger dogs may be able to go for a run with you in cool weather. Cats can be motivated to move more with laser lights, balls and feathers.
For Roscoe, losing some weight will improve his breathing issues. For your dog or cat, it may help their arthritis, diabetes or multiple other chronic diseases. Maintaining an appropriate weight is one of the best ways you can help your pet have a long and healthy life.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org