by Anna Bannon, DVM for The New Barker dog magazine. Spring 2019.
As a veterinarian, there are two things I see on a daily basis that I wish I could change – that pet owners can change – obesity and dental disease. Obesity and dental disease are the silent killers of millions of pets across the US. In this article, I want to focus a little on obesity, and also one of the life threatening illnesses that often occurs secondary to obesity: diabetes.
Obesity is the leading health threat to our nation’s pet population. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducted research in 2016 concluding that over 50% of dogs and cats are overweight, and that obesity rates are rising annually. Not only does obesity shorten the lifespan of your pet, but it can lead to a plethora of illnesses that are not only expensive and painful to your pet, but can be fatal, including urinary tract disease, heart failure, liver disease, asthma, painful joint disease or disc disease, diabetes and more.
To determine if your pet is overweight, the best thing to do is ask your veterinarian, who will be very familiar with a scoring system called the Body Condition Score. This is something that you can learn as well. The animal Body Condition Score consists of three main factors: Ribs, Waist, and Hips. Can you feel (but not see) your pet’s ribs? Does your pet have a waistline? Can you feel the hip bones? Some breeds have slight variations on this, and sometimes it can be difficult to judge your own pet, but most veterinarians will make a note of this during every physical exam, so if you aren’t sure, just call your vet.
If your pet is overweight, then the remedy for that is actually quite straightforward: reduce the calories they get, and increase the exercise they receive. This means that you should take note of how much food they are regularly getting. Is it 1 cup twice daily? Is it a solo cup scoop that you fill part way? Is it a bowl of food that you fill every few days?
Step one is to actually figure out how much food they are eating per day and cut it back by at least one third. Step two is get out and move. Take your pet for a few extra walks per week, or throw the ball in the back yard for 15 minutes a day. Just get them moving and burning calories.
Now, the hard part: treats. I know, I know, it’s hard not to feed your pet treats. My Doberman just has to have some pizza crust everytime we get pizza, and you know what? I give it to her (gasp!). But I also have her on a set amount of kibble and I weigh her regularly to make sure she is maintaining a healthy weight. You are always welcome to bring your pet into your vet’s office to get weighed.
Some people are surprised to learn that animals can get diabetes. In fact, animals get many of the same illnesses that people get. Diabetes is a little different in animals, since there’s not really a “type 1” and “type 2” diabetes, like there are in people. In animals, when they become diabetic, they all need insulin replacement (with rare exception in some cats). This can be a difficult lifestyle change for a pet owner, and it can be expensive.
When an animal is diagnosed with diabetes, the treatment isn’t as straightforward as an injection twice a day. The difficult part is finding out how much of the injection to be given twice a day. Every animal is different, and if you give too much, you can cause them to go into a hypoglycemic shock (which can be fatal), but if you give too little, it’s not going to work well.
The body needs approximately a week to adjust to every change in insulin dose, so one of the reasons diabetes is expensive is because every time there is a dose change, a blood glucose curve needs to be performed. This is not as simple as one pin prick to get a blood sample, this is a full 12-24 hour curve, which means we need multiple samples taken throughout the day. This is not easy to do as a pet owner (though some owners learn how to get blood samples at home), and as a vet, keeping an animal in the hospital all day to get multiple blood samples can stress them out and even alter the results of the blood sugar.
With the exponential growth of technology and medicine, there are almost always new avenues to explore. There is a human medical device, called the FreeStyle Libre, that is being used to help regulate diabetes in animals. This product is a small round flat sensor that can stick to skin and has a tiny stylet that pokes just under the skin into the subcutaneous fat. This little painless sensor can read and record the glucose in the body, and is fairly accurate in animals. This device replaces the need to pull blood every hour and spend the day in the hospital. As an owner, all you have to do is scan the sensor with the FreeStyle Libre Reader every eight hours to record all the data from the previous eight hours. This sensor can last up to 10 days on your pet, and will give your veterinarian valuable information regarding the days and nights glucose curves. Plus, this is less expensive than having a blood glucose curve performed in the hospital. And it gives you up to 10 days worth of information. It’s a win-win. A lot of vets and pet owners aren’t aware of this new technology, but it can be lifesaving for pets who are difficult to regulate or for pets who don’t tolerate blood draw. If your pet is diabetic, ask your vet about using the FreeStyle Libre to get glucose curves.
Dr. Anna Bannon graduated from the University of South Florida in 2007 and Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. She worked in a private practice in the Tampa area for five years before opening her own practice, Family Animal Hospital. She may be reached at 813.512.7336.