Obesity is a problem that affects more than half of U.S. dogs and cats, and this issue continues to increase. By understanding obesity’s complications and what you can do to help your pet slim down, you can improve your furry pal’s quality of life. Learn about this serious condition by reading our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team’s story about Tank and his battle with obesity. Although Tank is a fictitious patient, the obesity problems we describe are real.

A pet’s weighty troubles

Having lived a cushy lifestyle, 8-year-old Labrador retriever Tank was heavier than he ought to have been, but he never missed a meal—or a dropped crumb. While his owners understood that Tank was carrying too much weight, they struggled to help their pooch shed those extra pounds. Cutting calories didn’t help, as Tank turned to eating inedible items in an attempt to feel satiated. Increased exercise wasn’t an option either, as Tank could barely hobble down the steps to get outdoors to relieve himself.

Desperate to improve Tank’s quality of life, his owners made an appointment with our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team. During Tank’s appointment, Dr. Breite classified the chubby chowhound as an 8 out of 9 on the body condition scoring (BCS) system. Ideally, Tank should be around a 5 at the most, but the additional weight he was carrying bumped up his score.

Diagnosing a pet’s obesity complications and underlying medical conditions

Tank’s physical exam indicated he had hind end muscle mass loss, likely caused by arthritis. Labradors commonly have this degenerative joint condition, which obesity exacerbates. Tank had also developed a nasty skin infection in his neck’s fatty folds, where air failed to reach the rolls stuffed under his collar.

After hearing about Tank’s issues at home—unstoppable weight gain, constant hunger, and inability to exercise well—Dr. Breite recommended a diagnostic plan to help guide treatment. Our team performed blood work to evaluate Tank’s organ function, hormone levels, electrolyte balances, and blood cell counts. We also took X-rays of Tank’s hind legs and hips, as well as a skin cytology from his neck folds.

Upon assessing the test results, Dr. Breite diagnosed Tank with multiple correlated issues. As suspected, Tank had developed arthritis in his stifles (i.e., knees) and hips, which Dr. Breite observed by bony changes on the X-rays. While Tank likely developed arthritis in part because of a genetic predisposition, obesity worsened the problem. Over time, weight gain caused Tank to become more sluggish, which resulted in fewer expended calories, creating a vicious weight gain and arthritis pain cycle.

Tank’s blood work results indicated he had a low thyroid hormone level (i.e., hypothyroidism) and elevated liver values. Thyroid hormones play a major role in metabolism, and when a pet has a deficiency, their metabolism can plummet, leading to weight gain. In addition, obese pets often have elevated liver values because the liver plays a vital role in fat metabolism.

By examining the skin cell sample taken from the irritated spot on Tank’s neck, our team diagnosed a mixed bacterial and yeast infection. Fortunately, we could easily treat the skin infection with a topical ointment, but long-term prevention would require Tank to lose some weight—and rolls.

Treating a pet’s obesity and underlying medical conditions

After formulating a treatment plan, Dr. Breite discussed Tank’s test results with his owners and outlined his plan to help the portly pooch lose weight. To address Tank’s hypothyroidism, Dr. Breite prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone that the Labrador’s owner would administer once or twice daily, depending on his response. To support Tank’s liver, Dr. Breite recommended a supplement to help the organ metabolize fat and perform other essential functions throughout the pooch’s weight loss journey. 

Arthritis pain management was the most complicated part of Tank’s treatment plan. Because his liver is not fully functioning, the arthritis pain medications his body would be able to tolerate were limited. However, numerous other therapies could be used to reduce Tank’s joint inflammation and pain, while improving his mobility. Over time, as Tank becomes more comfortable, his owner can increase his activity level, which will help him shed weight, especially as his thyroid medication takes effect.

Celebrating a pet’s effective weight loss plan

At Tank’s two-week progress visit, he had already lost a couple of pounds, and his new prescription diet specifically designed for canine joint health and weight loss seemed to satiate him. While he wasn’t leaping into the car yet, Tank’s owners were pleased with the subtle changes they had already seen in their dog. 

By Tank’s six-month check-up, he was acting like a puppy again. He was close to reaching his ideal body condition, and he had the energy and mobility of his younger self. Although arthritis and hypothyroidism are lifelong conditions, by managing the obesity and underlying chronic conditions, Dr. Breite and Tank’s owner restored the pooch’s quality of life.

If your furry pal is experiencing weight-related trouble, call our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team, and we will determine whether your pet has any underlying medical conditions and design a weight loss and exercise plan to fit their unique needs and ensure they achieve a healthy body weight.