Browsing tag: weight loss

Fat pets: silently suffering due to their owners’ “kindness”

Here’s a paradox: the biggest cause of suffering in pet dogs may be  people who believe that they love their pets the most. What am I talking about? Overfeeding and its consequence: obesity.

Over a third of dogs in the UK (2.9million) are overweight or obese while 25 per cent of cats (3 million) suffer the same problem. These animals have a serious risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, and have a lower life expectancy than pets with a healthy weight.

Arthritis is probably the most common issue that causes physical suffering. As a vet, whenever I treat an older dog for sore joints, I write out a check list of the treatment plan. And the top of the list, in nearly every case, is “weight loss”. For many animals, this is more effective than any medication.

The people at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home will be discussing this problem in tonight’s episode of Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs on ITV1 at 8pm. Prevention of obesity seems simple in theory, but for some reason, many pet owners find it difficult. Again, part of the problem may be that we see pets like little humans, and we feed them accordingly.

The Battersea team have put together some simple tips that may help owners understand how to keep their pets slim and trim.

The first aspect is to work out the amount that a pet needs to eat: this depends on its breed, age and size, but as a rough indication, a small dog only needs about 350 calories a day while for a cat, it’s around 280 calories. So a slice of toast is equal to a third of the dog’s daily calories, equivalent to a human eating half a loaf of white bread. Other useful comparisons include a 3cm cube of cheese (equal to a whole cup of molten fondue cheese), one custard cream (half a pack of custard creams), and half a tin of tuna (a large cod n’ chips from the local chippie).

The second tip is to stick to a standard diet, without extras. It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats get bored with their food. When pets turn their noses up at their dinner, it’s often because they aren’t hungry rather than because they don’t like it: they will often still eat interesting nibbles if offered. It’s similar to the way that we humans will often manage dessert at the end of a meal, even if we’re feeling comfortably full. This is a common cause of weight gain in pets, just as it is in humans.

Third, if you’re worried about your pet’s weight, consult your vet. There are medical reasons for weight gain that may need to be ruled out, and a regular (free) weigh in on your vet’s electronic scales is the best way to monitor your pet’s body condition. It’s difficult to assess this by just looking, especially when you see your pet every day, because weight gain happens so gradually.

Pets don’t get fat because they choose to eat too much: it’s because their owners choose to feed them so much.

If you have an obese pet, there’s no dodging it: it’s your fault. The situation can be remedied, so don’t despair. Take an action to do something about it today. Go on: pick up the phone, call your vet and arrange that all-important weigh-in.

Hyperthyroidism in cats.

This is one of the most commonly diagnosed endocrine (hormonal) diseases in cats.

Many older cats suffer from a variety of symptoms which might just be put down to ageing, or might previously have been attributed to kidney disease, but many of these will actually be in the early stages of hyperthyroidism. Over the last 20-30 years a great deal of research has been done on this disease, and treatment has improved as a result.

The thyroid glands lie in the neck, one either side of the windpipe, with occasional extra smaller glands present in some cats. The glands produce thyroid hormones which are involved in regulating metabolism, so they have an effect on most systems of the body. The glands can become enlarged and overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone. This is usually because of a benign (non-cancerous) change in the thyroid gland, but more rarely it can be caused by a tumour called a thyroid carcinoma.

Fluffy-BWThe typical cat with hyperthyroidism will be an older cat with some or all of the following symptoms:

  • loss of weight
  • increased appetite
  • increased thirst
  • increased heart rate
  • heart murmur
  • restlessness or hyperactivity
  • digestive upset
  • an unkempt coat
  • swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck

These sorts of symptoms will arouse suspicion that hyperthyroidism is the cause, but it can only be confirmed with a blood test to measure the levels of thyroid hormones. This would usually be combined with other tests to check kidney and liver function and to check for diabetes, as all these can have similar symptoms and of course there might sometimes be more than one problem going on.

If hyperthyroidism is diagnosed, treatment usually begins with tablets. The drugs reduce the production of thyroid hormone. The dose and frequency will depend on which drug is used and on how high the thyroid hormone levels were on the blood test. After 2 or 3 weeks a second blood test will show whether the levels are becoming closer to normal, at which time the dosage may be changed. If this treatment suits the patient, it can be continued long term with regular monitoring by blood tests. However, some cats are harder to give tablets to than others, and a few will suffer from side effects.

Another treatment option is surgical removal of the thyroid glands, which is usually very successful and offers a more permanent solution. The operation does involve some risks, particularly the risk of damaging other small structures next to the thyroids, like the parathyroid glands. (These are important in regulating the levels of calcium in the blood, and if damaged during surgery supplementation with calcium could be needed.) A cat with heart problems may be a poor risk for surgery, but often tablets can be used first to improve health so surgery is a better option, and additional drugs to control any heart problems may be given. In most cases, cats which have had their thyroids removed will not need to take tablets, but sometimes the problem can still return later, if for example the cat has some smaller gland tissue which was not removed with the main glands. This extra thyroid tissue, known as ectopic thyroid tissue, can be located anywhere in the neck or even within the chest. In some cats only one thyroid is affected at first so only one is removed, then some years later the same condition could occur on the other side.

The other main treatment available is with radioactive iodine, which is a specialist treatment only available at some centres in the UK. Radioactive iodine is given to the cat by injection and it becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland, where the radioactivity destroys the damaged tissue. One of the disadvantages of this treatment is that the cat has to be hospitalised for several weeks because of safety issues surrounding the radioactive material used. It is not dangerous to the cat itself but has to be handled safely to protect people working with it.

Decisions on which treatment would be best for an individual cat are best made in conjunction with the vet who knows all the details of the case. Where complicating factors like heart disease or kidney disease are present, these need to be treated as well. Once diagnosed, the outlook for a cat with hyperthyroidism is usually very good. Whichever treatment is used, it is likely to prolong life and improve the quality of life.

If you are worried that your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed, talk to your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

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