APOP Dr. Ward talks about pet obesity


Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM

Obesity is a serious problem worldwide and millions of people and pets suffer from it and the many conditions associated with it. I founded FeedRight because I believe healthy pet owners make healthier choices for their pets. As a Pet Nutritionist, it is my goal to educate pet owners on the importance of proper nutrition. Visit FeedRight for People for more information.

Dr. Ernie Ward DVM, shares similar beliefs. APOP, The Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, was founded in 2005 by Dr. Ward, a competitive Ironman triathlete, certified personal trainer, and accredited USA Triathlon coach. His mission? To develop and promote parallel weight loss programs designed to help pet owners lose weight alongside their pets!

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) has launched campaigns to fight pet obesity within the veterinary medical community, veterinary schools, and state and local veterinary organizations, and has reached out to various media outlets. APOP is made up of dedicated veterinarians and veterinary healthcare personnel who are committed to making the lives of dogs, cats, all other animals and people healthier and more vital.

APOP is not affiliated with any veterinary industry corporation or business in any manner. This neutrality is critical to their ability to provide unbiased information and advice to veterinary healthcare providers and the pet-loving public. And they need our help!

Juliana: What inspired you to create APOP in 2005?

Dr. Ward: My own journey is an amalgam of my love of veterinary medicine and human health. Early on I recognized the power of lifestyle and nutrition in creating and preserving health, most notably my own. As I focused on the health effects of lifestyle and nutritional intervention in humans, I began applying these tenets to my pet patients. While this may seem backwards or odd for a veterinarian to apply human experiences to his pet patients, the truth is that nutrition isn’t emphasized nearly enough in veterinary medical school – or human medical school, either. I found my nutritional education lacking and, quite frankly, biased. I started to embark on educating myself in pet nutrition by reading every resource I could find – both in human and veterinary physiology and nutrition. The more I researched the more questions I realized I had never asked nor even thought to answer. The result was to combine as many of the brightest minds interested in pet obesity into APOP and begin to address some of these challenging questions.

I also became active in endurance athletics, specifically Ironman triathlon, and became a certified personal trainer and USA Triathlon accredited coach to learn more about ultra-endurance physiology. I wanted to test how my body responded to different challenges and prevent disease and injury. This was completely aligned with my profession.

My primary goal as a veterinarian is disease prevention. Proper nutrition and lean body mass are essential ingredients for optimal health. I’ve always believed that health isn’t merely the absence of illness; it’s about achieving the best you can be. When I began taking this approach with my veterinary patients, using food as medicine, I began seeing dogs walk without pain, diabetics discontinuing their insulin and cancer patients living longer than expected. Food truly is the best medicine!  

Juliana: Why is it important for pet owners to start getting more educated about the health problems associated with pet obesity?

Dr. Ward: The first line in my book, “Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs are Getting Fatter – A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives” is: “We’re killing our dogs by making them fat.” I’d go as far as to saying we’re raising the first generation of pets that won’t live as long as their parents. The major health risks associated with obesity in dogs and cats include arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory problems and many forms of cancer. In addition, weight-related disorders not only cause needless suffering, they also cost pet owners tens of millions of dollars each year.

Decreased longevity – In a ground-breaking study, researchers found that dogs fed 25% fewer calories than normal and kept thin and lean lived over two years longer. What was even more exciting was the finding that the thinner dogs had fewer medical problems, required less medication and remained more active well into “old age.” If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth for your pet, it can be found in the food bowl. The study clearly proved that if you keep your pet lean they’re more likely to live a long, healthy life.

Arthritis – The number one medical condition associated with excess weight is osteoarthritis. Dogs are typically affected but cats are developing crippling arthritis at alarming rates. Both large and small breeds can be affected. If your pet is carrying a few extra pounds, remember those pounds are stressing tiny joints not designed to carry extra weight. Making matters worse, fat cells produce harmful chemicals that damage even non-weight bearing joints. There is no cure for arthritis; we can only minimize the pain. Save your pet from suffering (and your money) by keeping your dog or cat trim and lean.

The critical health issues faced by overweight pest are:

Diabetes – Veterinarians are increasingly diagnosing cats with type 2 diabetes. Just as in humans, overweight cats are at tremendous risk for developing high blood sugar requiring twice daily insulin injections. Obese dogs are more prone to a condition known as insulin resistance, a state in which they have dangerously high insulin and blood sugar levels. Both diabetes and insulin resistance have been shown to reduce a pet’s life expectancy in addition to requiring constant medication and treatment. Type 2 diabetes is prevented by simply feeding your pet the amount of food to maintain a normal weight. What could be easier?

High blood pressure – We often forget that our pets get many of the same diseases as humans. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because you can’t tell if your pet has it nor can you see the damage it’s causing. If your pet has packed on a few extra pounds, ask your veterinarian to check its blood pressure. This simple test can help prevent sudden blindness, heart problems and kidney failure. Treatment is as simple as changing to a low-sodium diet, losing weight, increasing exercise and medications in more serious cases.

Cranial cruciate ligament injury – Americans spent over $1.5 billion repairing torn knee ligaments in dogs last year. Sadly, many of these cases could’ve been prevented by simple weight management. Knee injuries were once limited to athletic dogs during leaping and running activities. Today we see toy breeds, indoor lap potatoes and older dogs limping from this injury due to extra pounds. If you own an active dog prone to knee problems, it is especially important to keep your weekend warrior a healthy weight to prevent this painful, and expensive, injury.

Kidney disease – According to many studies, obesity places a pet at increased risk for developing kidney disease. There are several potential causes for this, including feeding a high-fat diet. For older cats, being heavy may be the final straw when it comes to developing kidney failure.

Incontinence – Urinary incontinence has been associated with excess weight in humans for many years. Older overweight dogs are now observed to have a similar problem. If your dog is having “accidents” at night, it may be due to weight gain.

Cancer – Excess fat has been implicated in the formation of many cancers in animals. New research points to obesity-related insulin resistance as the most likely cause. Reduce the weight and reduce the risk.

The trouble with being chubby isn’t simply vanity; excess weight causes or worsens many serious medical conditions in pets. Our pets depend on us to make good choices for them. Make sure you’re making food decisions based on your pet’s best interest and not due to clever marketing or price. Talk with your veterinarian about specific strategies to keep your pet at a healthy weight. Your pet will be happier, have fewer medical problems and you’ll enjoy more years together.

Juliana: What are APOP goals for the near future and how can people help you?

Dr. Ward: The most important thing we need is data! Please ask your veterinarian to participate in our annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey. This year it will be held on October 10, 2012. All your vet has to do is record the weight and body condition score (BCS) for the pets they examine on that day. The more participating clinics we have the more accurate our pet obesity prevalence estimates are. We also have a pet owner lifestyle questionnaire we encourage every pet lover to complete. Please help us learn more about this serious health threat to our best friends.

Veterinarians and pet owners can sign up here: http://www.petobesityprevention.com/npoad/

Juliana: Any relevant info/resources you would like to share to help educate pet owners?

Dr. Ward: Visit www.PetObesityPrevention.org or www.DrErnieWard.com. Visit us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/PetObesityPrevention and www.Facebook.com/DrErnieWard 

For my book on dog obesity: www.ChowHoundsBook.com or Amazon

With many thanks to Dr. Ernie Ward for his collaboration with this article. Your work is inspiring and much appreciated!

Ernie Ward, DVM Founder of APOP and owner of award-winning small animal hospital Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina. He is the resident veterinarian for the Rachael Ray Show and has been featured on numerous televison shows including NBC Nightly News, CNN, and Nightline and numerous Animal Planet specials. He has published over 55 veterinary articles and is the author of “Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter,” LifeLearn’s Client Education series and has produced three veterinary staff training videos and books. His clinic was awarded the National Practice of Excellence in 1999 and he was voted “Speaker of the Year” in 2004 for the North American Veterinary Conference. Dr. Ward’s veterinary articles have been published in the US, Canada, England, China, Japan,Taiwan, Spain, France and Hungary. He is also an expert contributor for Vetstreet.com and Pet Expert for WebMD. Dr. Ward is a certified personal trainer, USA triathlon coach and Ironman (PR 11:45). He can be contact at Phone: 910-579-5550 Email: DrErnieWard@gmail.com Website: www.DrErnieWard.com Social: Facebook, Twitter