Do you have a chunky monkey...aka, furry best friend? If you do, you're not alone...!

In this episode of the Pet Nutrition Show with Amanda and Dr. Anna Sutton, the focus is on the issue of obesity in pets.

They discuss how to identify if your dog or cat is overweight through various methods including using the body condition score and monitoring weight at vet visits.

Dr. Anna shares insights into the causes of pet obesity, linking it to similar factors affecting human obesity such as overfeeding, lack of exercise, and potentially even environmental factors. She also delves into the health repercussions of obesity in pets, such as diabetes and arthritis, and discuss emerging research on the role of leptin and the microbiome in weight regulation.

Practical advice is given on managing pet weight, including reducing treat intake and adjusting portion sizes, alongside healthier treat alternatives. The episode wraps up with a segment on home food hacks for healthier pet treats.

00:00 Introduction to the Pet Nutrition Show
00:27 Q&A: Identifying Pet Obesity
04:16 Understanding Pet Obesity
05:14 Causes of Pet Obesity
08:13 Health Impacts of Pet Obesity
18:10 Managing Pet Obesity
22:21 Healthy Treats and Food Hacks

Check a body composition score chart here.


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Have a listen to the show, but if you’re more of a reader, here's the transcript:

[00:00:00] INTRO: This

[00:00:02] AMANDA: is the

[00:00:03] INTRO: Pet Nutrition Show with Amanda and Dr. Anna.

[00:00:06] AMANDA: Welcome to the Pet Nutrition Show, where we talk pet nutrition, sustainable pet food, and all things related. Now, this is week two of our special series. Interviewing our co host, Dr. Anna Sutton, an expert in her own right, and we are going to be talking about obesity today.

[00:00:27] AMANDA: But before we dive into that important topic, it's time for Q& A.

[00:00:33] INTRO: Pet Q& A, where we answer what you're wondering about food, moods, and poos.

[00:00:40] AMANDA: So, Anna, given that our subject is obesity, how do I know if my dog or my cat's overweight?

[00:00:47] ANNA: Actually, it's actually a little bit harder than you might think. And I can attest to that because I've got like a really fluffy dog.

[00:00:53] ANNA: They've got all these curls around and you know what? I didn't realize that she was kind of on the [00:01:00] chunky side until she got clipped. I had the shock of my life. Um, so it's actually not super easy. So there's a few things you can do. Every time you go to the vet, take your dog and just put them on the scale.

[00:01:15] ANNA: So this is something you can start in puppyhood. You can go actually just into the vet, pop them on the scale, give them a treat. I know that. That's probably not a good thing for enough episodes about obesity, but it gets them used to standing on the scales. And, you know, it's something you'll vet every time you visit.

[00:01:33] ANNA: Well, almost certainly we'll look at, you know, they'll have a look at the weight of your dog, say, Oh, well, you kind of put on a few pounds here. It might be time to cut that treats. So that's one way. But the, the really good way is to get into habits of learning how to use this thing we call the body condition score.

[00:01:53] ANNA: Google body condition score and what it will throw up to you.

[00:01:57] AMANDA: We'll put a link to one. And in fact, you know, we've produced [00:02:00] one of our own, which is, which has got that scoring and how to identify it. It's got helpful diagrams, right?

[00:02:06] ANNA: Absolutely. So essentially what you need to do is. Preferably, if you've got a fluffy dog, it helps if you wet the coat down, and you want to be looking top down over your dog, and basically you're looking for the shape of your dog, and you want to see a bit of a waist, and you don't want to see a sausage, and then you compare that top down picture to the chart, and that will give you a number score, so, which will guide you as to whether or not you're in about the right range or not.

[00:02:42] AMANDA: You can also look from the side on though, right?

[00:02:44] ANNA: Well, when you look at the side on, you don't really see much, but if you look top down, you're looking at the little sort of divvy in bit, which is kind of the waist, and you want to see a tuck in through there. You don't want to see it one long sausage. And then what you want [00:03:00] to do is just put your hands around, you know, where the ribs of your, your pets are.

[00:03:04] ANNA: And you should, you should feel them, right? There shouldn't be such a thick pad of fat that you can't work out where the ribs are. Now, they shouldn't be super, super prominent unless that breed is specifically that sort of dog, and they should be there. So there's other things you can look at, like also their muscle mass and muscle scores, and that's a little bit more complicated.

[00:03:27] ANNA: But, but looking at your animal top down, looking at the body condition score guide, and you can look at it side on as well, it's just I don't find that quite so easy. We'll give you a good guide on where your dog sits. And the other thing is of course, compare its weight against that on for their breed.

[00:03:47] ANNA: There's some super good videos on this, by the way, on YouTube. So just, just have a look on good old YouTube for this as well.

[00:03:54] AMANDA: Thanks for that. And we will, as I said, put a link to a body condition score [00:04:00] chart, which has typically got both top down and, and side view and, but that's a great idea.

[00:04:06] AMANDA: Particularly if your dog is a little bit furry, uh, to have a feel for the ribs because sometimes you can't actually see them, so. Now, let's talk more about actual obesity. So how big a problem is it? Geez,

[00:04:23] ANNA: it's a massive problem. And you know, it sort of tracks the obesity crisis we have in our world as humans.

[00:04:31] ANNA: So obesity rates seem to be increasing. In humans, there's probably more data on this than dogs and cats. But even if I, if I look just at Australian cats and dogs, I think the data back in. 2010 was about just under 30 percent dogs and cats were, were obese. Now it's closer to 40. So that's, you know, that's an increase and the numbers in the literature vary anything from 40 [00:05:00] to 60 percent of pets being obese.

[00:05:02] ANNA: So there's this huge, huge range. So it's, you know, it's a little bit difficult to say exactly what percentage overweight, but there's enough there to say it's a big problem.

[00:05:13] AMANDA: And. What causes it? I mean, is it as simple as, yeah, eat too much honey?

[00:05:19] ANNA: Oh, look, again, same as in the human world, there's probably multiple causes and it's probably not as simple as, you know, to just ate too much.

[00:05:30] ANNA: Absolutely a contributing factor. But, you know, to put it in perspective, it's It's not only pets and us that are getting fat. It's all sorts of things. Increase in obesity, for example, has been occurring in laboratory animals that are really well controlled. Even feral rats have got fatter. So, there is a whole, I know, chunky rats, right?

[00:05:53] ANNA: Now that's probably Because they're going through our garbage and our diet's pretty rubbish now. So they're getting a lot more chocolate [00:06:00] biscuits than they used to. But regardless, the problem's getting much bigger. In terms of the, the causes, there have been all sorts of studies looking at, well, you know, is it a mechanism of satiety?

[00:06:14] ANNA: Is it things like leptin and ghrelin dysfunction? These are, if you like, hormones that tell us when to eat and when not to eat. Is it the environment? Is it something to do with the fact that we heat our houses, uh, now all the time or lights? We've got artificial lights on all the time. Is that impacting obesity?

[00:06:34] ANNA: And it looks like it might do. It looks like it might actually impact the sensitivity of leptin receptors, for example. Or is it simply, We, we feed too much. And, and, you know, in all honesty, that's in most cases is probably a really big part of it.

[00:06:52] AMANDA: If you listen to Daniel Shuloff, as we did a couple of weeks ago, he would lay a lot of the blame for this at the door of carbohydrates [00:07:00] in a lot of the food that's being eaten.

[00:07:01] ANNA: Yeah. And look. Maybe it is, but can we prove it? Probably not. And actually, you know, but it's interesting because actually there was a study looking at obesity in or weight gain in neutered dogs. And what they did is they changed the carbohydrate ratios. So they had the dogs on either Uh, fairly standard carbohydrate and protein ratio, and I can't remember the numbers for the life of me for the moment.

[00:07:28] ANNA: And then they moved it to, they, they had another set on a higher protein. So I think it was targeting about 80 or 90 grams per thousand calories and consequently a lower carbohydrate, I think targeting 30 percent or something. In those particular dogs, the neutered dogs, the ones that were moved on to the higher protein, lower carbohydrate, even though the energy density, the calories in each serve was identical, [00:08:00] those dogs gained less weight.

[00:08:02] ANNA: So, so look, maybe there is a story, story there. Um, it's difficult to know. It's, it's really difficult to know. I don't think it's the whole story though.

[00:08:13] AMANDA: So, you know, we know that obesity in humans has serious health effects. You know, it causes this whole knock on, uh, series of, of diseases. What about, uh, the health of dogs and cats?

[00:08:29] AMANDA: How, how does obesity affect them?

[00:08:31] ANNA: Yeah, it's a similar thing. So there's a whole heap of health problems. So diabetes is a common one, both cats and dogs, by the way. And actually I just noticed today there was a paper essentially labeling a, a new disease for, for dogs, if you will, a metabolic disorder that linked to.

[00:08:51] ANNA: obesity. Diabetes in cats, for example, we know that obesity raises the incidence of type 2 diabetes in cats. [00:09:00] In dogs, um, diabetes is usually caused by By, by other things, but obese dogs tend to, uh, have a higher tendency, uh, towards metabolic syndrome, which is, uh, it, which is also linked with, with diabetes.

[00:09:19] ANNA: Arthritis, usually related just to the wear and tear on the joints, but also to the inflammatory nature of obesity, because, because that's an endocrine organ, right? And also heart disease. So all the things that we see in our world unfortunately is mirrored into our, our pets, our pets worlds. Now heart disease is not quite the same, but um, but certainly that incidence is, is increased.

[00:09:47] ANNA: So it's not just aesthetics again with, with obesity, it's, it's a serious problem and, and you know, you've got to think about it from the poor cat and the dog. When they're heavy, it's uncomfortable and they can't do the things that they [00:10:00] want to do.

[00:10:01] AMANDA: Now, you mentioned leptin before, so, so just can you explain the role of leptin in obesity and how that affects dogs and cats?

[00:10:09] ANNA: Look, it's still an emerging area and I have to admit I'm not all over it, but essentially leptin is one of the things that we use to, to regulate hunger. Now it seems that in obese cats and dogs that, that this pathway, this leptin pathway is dysregulated. Quite how it is. We're not sure, but it certainly impacted, and this might be one of the reasons.

[00:10:37] ANNA: One of the implications with, um, dogs and cats, certainly when they're heavier, their leptin levels are elevated, but what happens is it doesn't reduce food intake, probably due to leptin resistance, and actually in obese dogs, what's interesting is that the leptin receptors in the skin seem to be [00:11:00] upregulated somehow, so, so that's all really interesting.

[00:11:03] ANNA: What this all means, though, is they're not getting that signal to stop eating. The only thing I'd say about this is that, you know, I've got Lab, as I keep mentioning, and he never stops eating.

[00:11:17] AMANDA: What Lab does!

[00:11:20] ANNA: But, but one other point here is Leptin actually has good some quite pro inflammatory properties and it's also immune, involved in immune regulation.

[00:11:27] ANNA: So there's, there's other things going on in obese pets due to leptin rather than it just stopping the meat. And, and we just don't know enough about that yet.

[00:11:38] AMANDA: And so, is there a role for the microbiome in obesity as well? Yeah, quite possibly,

[00:11:44] ANNA: because the microbiome of obese and thin animals differs, and there have been some studies that transplant.

[00:11:54] ANNA: Basically, poop transplants from a thin animal to a fat animal and vice versa. And [00:12:00] they've been able to show when you do these, you know, these poop transplants that you can make a chunky mouse skinny and a skinny mouse chunky. So that's really, really interesting. Now, why on earth it's doing this, you know, is, is probably anybody's guess.

[00:12:17] ANNA: And there's a lot of research in this area. This field, but it might be to do with some of the metabolic byproducts of these, of the different microbiomes that are impacting both appetite regulation and fat storage, and maybe even things like insulin and glucagon in that regard. So, you know, in terms of, of the microbiome and diet, perhaps managing the microbiome through diet or possibly probiotics might, might actually be an important part of a comprehensive, if you like, weight management plan in the future, but it's still early days yet.

[00:12:56] ANNA: And just kind of a weird [00:13:00] fact is that often obese pets have obese owners, and that's That I remember seeing a piece of literature showing that actually that Owners and dogs share quite significant commonalities in their microbiome. So maybe there's more to that link than we realized. Which doesn't actually bode very well for me sometimes.

[00:13:25] AMANDA: No, and, and the research around this is really quite interesting because there's also other research I think came out of the University of New South Wales, um, that actually put, this is probably, I'd say 2018, something around there, put the proposal. the proportion of dogs as obese or overweight at 44%.

[00:13:46] AMANDA: But you're right, there, there are, there's quite a sort of wide array of figures. And part of that is because of significant under reporting. Um, there's, I don't know whether it was part of the same research study or another one that said, uh, a lot of [00:14:00] vets don't want to mention it to, uh, their clients, the human clients, you know, is your dog overweight?

[00:14:06] AMANDA: And a lot of. Parents, pet owners also were completely in the dark that the dog had a problem. And there was also this, this correlation of I'm big and my dog's big as well. So, you know, I think there was also a study that, Looked at, it was a sort of like a psychographic study with owners of cats. And it said that basically something along the lines of, if you are a less disciplined and sort of more ad hoc person yourself, then the way in which you feed your cat will reflect that kind of approach and your cat's more likely to be overweight.

[00:14:47] AMANDA: So I'd have to D out that study, but it was quite interesting. Just that this, this sort of relationship between. Owners and, and their dogs and cats.

[00:14:56] ANNA: Oh, and look, it's really hard. And I, you know, not [00:15:00] being a vet, I don't, you know, obviously I have to say to patients, Oh, your, your dog's really fat or your cat's really fat, but the vets on this course told me it's a really hard conversation to have, especially if the owner's a little bit, you know, overweight because it, owners take it personally.

[00:15:19] ANNA: So it is hard, but we do, it's something. What we can do for our animals to, to try and keep them in their white weight zone. So we do have a responsibility and actually I think the Pet Food Association of Australia actually label obesity in cats and dogs as malnutrition. So that's an interesting way to look at it.

[00:15:41] AMANDA: It is. I'm probably more firmly on the side of carbohydrates playing a role than you sound like you are today. Uh, but, but there's, leaving that to one side, there's also, uh, a food or portion quantity issue. And one of the things that used to [00:16:00] drive me crazy as a pet parent was how vague the feed guides are on the back of the packs and how vague your vet can be when you say to them, how much should I feed my dog?

[00:16:11] AMANDA: So much so that when I founded Bestie, you know, my company, we developed an app that is actually specific to the protein, because as you would know, different protein sources give different amounts of metabolizable energy. To the dog. So, you know, these kinds of averaged sort of feed quantities are a bit of a recipe for overfeeding, aren't they?

[00:16:37] ANNA: Yeah, you're dead right. And there's a few problems here. So first of all, the nutritional, the minimal nutritional requirements for dogs and cats were, you know, developed from studies years and years ago, and our dogs and cats are different today. Now that core resting energy is. Uh, equations are probably not far off the work mark and there's, there's work being [00:17:00] done on that, but there's huge individual variability between dogs, even of the same breed and the same litter, you know, up to 30, 40 percent differences in, in energy requirements.

[00:17:14] ANNA: And Emma Birmingham did a, a really good paper on this. So, so that's a problem. No two dogs are alike in their energy needs. The second problem is that when we, when we calculate how much energy a food has in it, it's different depending on how we process it. So if we only lightly cook it or it's raw, then there's more, actually a bit more available energy.

[00:17:42] ANNA: We're probably overestimating our, if you like, energy losses or digestible losses, even through extrusion. So that's another factor. And then When companies, commercial companies do their feeding guides, they have to take into account an average dog, of course, which there [00:18:00] almost isn't one. And so they're using generally, uh, an equation that tends to overestimate.

[00:18:07] ANNA: energy requirements rather than underestimate it.

[00:18:10] AMANDA: So if a pet parent wants to try and address their overweight dog and adjust the portion sizes appropriately, given all of that vagueness, and unless they're going to use the bestie calculator to work it out, what, what, what are they going to do? Given that they're, the feed guides are, as you say, for the average dog who doesn't exist and certainly won't be your dog.

[00:18:35] ANNA: That's absolutely right. Well, first of all, if you've, you know, you got to keep talking to your vets on this to make sure there's not an underlying, you know, endocrine disorder or so forth. But if you've got a chunky dog, the first thing is to check how much you're feeding, not only of the food, but what you're feeding of treats.

[00:18:52] ANNA: So that's the first thing. And then, you know, if you, if you've looked at both your food and your treats and you've added them together, Uh huh. [00:19:00] and you've compared it to the tables that you can look up on the internet of what a typical dog should eat, and you know, it's not outrageously high, it's in the same ballpark, then what I would do is look at your dog or cat's body condition score, and if they're on the chunky side, so they're a six and a seven, then start reducing their, their feed intake by 10 percent a day, and look what happens at the end of the week.

[00:19:31] ANNA: and evaluate them against their body condition score based on that. I would avoid doing any severe calorie or food restriction unless you're doing it under veterinary supervision, because there can be some consequences for that, particularly for cats. But as a general rule, 10 percent energy drop per day is a good start and you can probably go higher.

[00:19:55] ANNA: But talk to you about it first.

[00:19:57] AMANDA: So are there any other recommendations that you would [00:20:00] give to people with a chunky dog?

[00:20:01] ANNA: Yeah, don't, don't treat. So on this course, we had a particular case we're reviewing. It was like a little miniature schnauzer, you know, tiny little thing. Well, it, it should have been about, I think it was about three kilos.

[00:20:17] ANNA: It exploded up to five kilos, it virtually doubled its body weight and it was, it was weight, it was recovering from knee surgery, which, so, you know, it needed to get the weight off quick. And so I had a look at what, what the little dog eat was getting. And when we looked at its food, it was sort of spot on.

[00:20:37] ANNA: It was right in its maintenance energy requirements for a sedentary dog, which was, you know, looked pretty good. But. Then we looked down and we saw that the owner was giving this dog over the course of a week a full bag of treats, and it turned out that the energy from the treats was exceeding the energy being delivered by the real [00:21:00] food.

[00:21:01] ANNA: And in that lay the problem. Wow. The poor doggie was getting double its energy requirement and it was getting it from junk food or candy for dogs, if you like.

[00:21:10] AMANDA: So part of the message here is low calorie treats and less of them.

[00:21:16] ANNA: Low calories and less of them. And, and it's hard because, you know, a lot of treats out there are high meat, high protein and usually high fat because.

[00:21:27] ANNA: Raw and real fresh meat treats, you know, typically are that, and it's just reflects raw material. It's not, not that people have added anything. So just treat responsibly. Keep it, keep those treats small. And if you, you know, the other thing is take that, those treat portions out of what you're giving them for that day.

[00:21:48] ANNA: So if you're feeding a commercial kibble diet, take it out of the kibble and keep that aside. If you really want to. You know, make it seem different to their food, then buy a different [00:22:00] variety of kibble, but don't change the total volume you give. And if you're doing a raw or fresh or home prepared, then take some of that home prepared stuff if you like and, uh, pop it in a dehydrator, dehydrate it or an oven and, and feed that or get little bits of carrot or, or so forth.

[00:22:18] AMANDA: Well that actually is half of our food hack, I think. So let's dive into the food hack, uh, and talk about. Treats that actually might be a healthier option, because as you say, treat calories can add up pretty quickly.

[00:22:34] ANNA: It's

[00:22:34] INTRO: time for

[00:22:34] ANNA: home food hacks with Dr. Anna. Absolutely. Treat calories count. So again, I can't really take the credit for this.

[00:22:42] ANNA: This came up in the course on, you know, what can we do if we want to treat our chunky dog and Some of the ideas that came up were, were air dry, air popped popcorn. So, you know, in the popcorn makers, these have about a calorie and a half. So you could maybe [00:23:00] give 10 of those, for example.

[00:23:01] AMANDA: Great idea.

[00:23:02] ANNA: So, you know, that's, that was an easy one.

[00:23:05] ANNA: And it's something you can kind of have some for you and some for your dog, right? So that kind of meets that, that human dog, doggy bond. Now, I Cats are probably not going to be a massive fan of popcorn, so you know, you know, bear that in mind. Other things that came up were slices of cucumber, slices of, of carrots.

[00:23:26] ANNA: So fresh and raw that you can take with you.

[00:23:29] AMANDA: But my favorite one is about unused crusts.

[00:23:32] ANNA: Unused crust. Yes, and that one was really good because, uh, you know, a lot of kitties don't eat the crust right on toast anymore. They're not like you and I, Amanda.

[00:23:41] AMANDA: I have a bit of a hatred of them myself. Oh, do you? So just saying.

[00:23:46] AMANDA: I do. No way.

[00:23:47] ANNA: I used to love crust. Well, anyway, if you, if you cut these into small bits and, you know, I'm, when I small, I'm saying half a, probably half the length of your thumbnail, uh, [00:24:00] small cubes. Then, then that's about a calorie and a half, maybe two calories. And, and you can dry them out.

[00:24:07] AMANDA: And you can even zush it up with a smear of Vegemite.

[00:24:10] AMANDA: Pop it in the oven. You could do.

[00:24:11] ANNA: And just keep them small and not too many.

[00:24:14] AMANDA: Excellent. Well, that's a great note to finish on. We really hope that you've enjoyed this episode of the Pet Nutrition Show. We'd love to hear what you think. We'd also love to hear your questions. So hit us up on Instagram, Facebook or wherever, and we'll see what we can do to answer those.

[00:24:30] AMANDA: And we really look forward to seeing you next time on the Pet Nutrition Show.

[00:24:35] INTRO: The Pet Nutrition Show is proudly presented by Planet A Pet Food, bringing dogs a flexitarian diet that's good for them and the planet.

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