The 2013 Gallup Well-Being Poll published recently shows the nation has continued to gain weight every year. This finding applies to pets in the U.S. as well. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) has conducted its annual pet obesity veterinary survey, based on reports of routine exams on National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. The survey results show obesity rates have increased over the years and over 50 percent of dogs and cats were found to be overweight or obese by their veterinarians in the 2012 survey. Obesity causes the same health risks in animal as in people, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and joint problems. Knee surgeries have also been on the rise, particularly in obese dogs.
The knee problems in dogs are usually anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures and luxating patella. The former is mostly due to wear and tear, commonly seen in large overweight dogs, and the latter is actually a dislocation of the kneecap, often associated with small dogs.
The knee joint is the articulation between the thigh bones (femur) and the shin bones (fibula or tibia). The stability of the knee joint is entirely determined by the soft tissue within, which holds the bones and cartilages together properly. Obesity causes excessive stress on the joint, leading to the weakening of the ligaments, causing the joint to becomes prone to tear.
ACL injury is a very common sports injury occurring when an athlete attempts a direction change with the foot planted on the ground. It happens to heavy dogs during running or falling, but also can happen for no apparent reasons. Surgery to treat this condition involves taking a piece of the fibrous fascia layer on the muscle of the thigh, called fascia lata, to make a new ligament and drilling holes in both ends of the femur and tibia for the new ligament to attach to.
According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), a branch of Nationwide Insurance Company specialized in pets, torn ACL or cartilage is the fourth most often performed surgery type and costs on average $2,666.88. The medical cost from doing more knee surgeries on obese dogs is heavy on their owners.
Although healthy body signs of dogs, such as clear neckline and waist line and presence of some ribs, are easy for dog owners to spot, a high percentage of dog owners in the APOP survey considered their pets at normal weight and were shocked when the veterinarian assessed them to be overweight. There are certain breeds of dogs which show greater risk for getting heavy, such as Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, so owners of such breeds need to be extra careful in maintaining a healthy weight for their pets. The experts expressed frustration over the millions of dollars in medical bills and countless surgical procedure for weight-related problems that are entirely preventable.
Methods to prevent obesity are the same in dogs and in people and the obesity of pets can mostly be blamed on their owners. Many pet owners show affection through treats that are high in calories and neglect the necessary physical activities their pets need. Experts suggest changing the expression of affections from frequent treats to walking, playing or just cuddling with the pets. A Michigan State University study of dog owners in 2011 showed owning a dog strongly motivated people to get enough (human) exercise, and this is great for the health of the dog as well. The reduction of obesity in dogs will stop the rise of knee surgeries needed and help dogs to live longer, healthier and pain-free.
By Tina Zhang