VETgirl Q1 2022 Beat e-Magazine



future intervention programs that promote healthier and more active lifestyles for both people and their dogs; for example, incorporating dogs into weight-loss interventions for shared “One Health” benefits. STUDY 2: THE LINK BETWEEN FELINE OBESITY AND REDUCED QUALITY OF LIFE Obese dogs have been shown to have a diminished quality of life, but there has been less evidence characterizing the impact of obesity on the quality of life of cats. The second study* I was involved in set out to determine the impact of obesity on quality of life in companion cats and to examine owner perception of feline obesity. Thirty-three cats participated in our study and were either at healthy weights (BCS of 4 or 5 out of 9; 60.6% of the cats) or obese (BCS of 8 or 9; 39.4% of the cats).7 Owners were asked to self-report their cat’s quality of life as measured by a 16-item scale. 7 For example, one question owners were asked was: In the past four weeks, my cat has been curious and shown an interest in its surroundings (e.g., looking outdoors, watching surroundings, looking under furniture, sniffing objects). Owners could select between five answers: “Not at all,” “A little,” “Somewhat,” “Quite a bit,” or “A great deal.” 7 Significant findings 7 included: • 77% of owners of obese cats reported that obesity was a high risk to their cat’s health and less frequently cited the primary caretaker as a cause of cat obesity compared to owners of healthy weight cats. • 85% of owners of obese cats said they would implement a weight-loss plan for their cat, but only 47% had done so previously (emphasizing a gap between owner intent and action that the veterinary health care team could address). • 93% of owners preferred to focus on diet and exercise as weight-loss tools for their cat rather than medications, supplements, support groups and surgical interventions. • 97% of all participants believed that veterinarians should play a role in weight loss for cats. While these results indicate a communications gap between veterinarians and clients on the topic of feline nutrition, weight management and pet obesity, the good news is that nearly all of the owners believed that veterinarians should play a role in feline weight loss, citing health and quality of life concerns as motivations. This desire for support on the part of cat owners also presents an excellent opportunity for the veterinary team to work with owners to help their cats lose weight and improve their health and quality of life. Quality-of-life questionnaires similar to those distributed to cat owners in our study could be provided by

veterinarians as a tool to better align veterinarian and owner cat health goals.


Making the complex achievable: With so many—and often competing—elements in play, it may seem daunting to identify individual strategies to help overweight or obese patients lose weight. And while I won’t say that pet weight loss isn’t challenging, it is absolutely achievable. Following are tips I’ve found helpful: 1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE EMOTION. Sometimes, the relationship between clients and their pets seems confounding. That’s because it’s often based on emotion, not logic. In my experience, successful weight management in pets comes down to understanding the type of relationship the owner has with his or her pet. For example, one of my clients was a personal trainer who brought in a cat that weighed more than 20 pounds. I admit I was a little perplexed about how to help him as he knew everything I was about to say! I then asked the owner what he would “tell” his cat if she were one of his clients. He replied that he’d tell her to stop snacking on kibble. When I asked why he couldn’t do that, he looked at me and said, “She meows at me.”

Healthy Weight Loss in Pets: Help Clients Turn Intent In To Action

DEBORAH E. LINDER , DVM, MS, DACVIM (NUTRITION) Research Assistant Professor - Department of Clinical Sciences Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education feature article sponsored by Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets, Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Nutrition) and Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist®, discusses the importance of achieving healthy weight loss in dogs and cats and how this might even benefit the health of pet owners.

The human-animal bond has long been powerful. But during the last two years, it has grown even stronger between the patients and clients I see at the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals. Because many people have been home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve spent additional time with their pets. In some cases, this led to increased exercise time for both parties—particularly dog owners and their dogs. In other cases, clients hunkered down and indulged in treats more and exercised less, resulting in weight gain for all concerned. Human and pet obesity are not new phenomena. We know that the prevalence of human obesity has consistently risen since 1999 and it is predicted that by 2030, 78% of American adults, 33% of children and 50% of adolescents will be either overweight or obese. 1 But what about pet obesity? Is there a connection between the weight of owners and the weight of their dogs? And how does excess weight affect quality of life for cats? I’ve been involved in recent preliminary studies that explored each of these topics. I’d like to share the results we have so far with you and offer some tips for encouraging pet owners to be more proactive about the health of their pets—and, maybe by default, their own—and make healthy lifestyle changes that improve quality of life for everyone. STUDY 1: DO OVERWEIGHT CLIENTS HAVE OVERWEIGHT DOGS? Let’s start with the obvious: Pet obesity is a serious and growing concern. In 1995, 34.1% of adult dogs seen in private practice in the United States were overweight or obese. 2 More recent studies estimate that the prevalence of overweight and

obesity in dogs has increased to more than 50% of the U.S. canine population. 3,4

But what does this have to do with obesity in humans? A study out of the Netherlands found that adult pet owners being overweight correlated with excess weight in their pet dogs. 5 These findings reinforce the idea that owners may apply their own health choices, particularly regarding food and exercise, to their dogs. 5 With these findings in mind, my colleagues and I conducted a preliminary study to determine if there was data to support a possible correlation between the body composition of dogs and the body composition of their owners in the United States. We collected data from 38 owners and their dogs at pet festivals at several locations in Central New England, determining dog owner body composition by calculating body mass index (BMI) and dog body composition by measuring body condition score (BCS). 6 The median BMI of dog owners was 26 (with a range of 17 to 53), which is slightly overweight; while the median BCS of dogs was 6 out of 9 (with a range of 4 to 9), again, slightly overweight. 6 Frequency of overweight and obesity in dog owners was 31.6% and 26.3%, respectively; and 50.0% and 13.2% in dogs, respectively. 6 Owner body mass was positively correlated with dog body condition score (r = 0.60, p < 0.001). 6 While these findings may not be representative of the general U.S. population of dog owners and dogs, they provide perspective that some health behaviors may be shared among dog owners and their dogs. This perspective can help us build on current knowledge and allow for improvement in

It was a moment that changed everything I do at the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals.

This client didn’t need information about feline weight loss. He wanted a certain relationship with his cat. And if a weight-loss program was going to alter that relationship in a way he felt would harm or threaten their bond, he didn’t want to do it. In the end, we worked out a plan together that included their “non-negotiables,” meaning including foods or routines he felt were critical to providing his cat an excellent quality of life and that strengthened their bond. In order to create a weight-loss program that’s right for an individual patient and client, it’s important to perform a full nutritional assessment (which includes an extensive diet history) from the client of an overweight cat or dog. (Resources to help with this assessment are described below). Most of the time, that turns out to be more of a lifestyle assessment for the pet and family environment. In my work with overweight pets, I ask about the household, what a typical day is like, what the pet and the family like to do. 2. PROVIDE A CUSTOMIZED WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM.

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