Inflammation is the new obesity

Inflammation is the new obesity

To improve health for all, it’s time to shift the way we discuss overweight pets with our veterinary clients.
Aug 18, 2015

I’ve been studying and working on pet and human obesity for nearly 20 years. In that time I’ve witnessed the obesity discussion evolve from “fat is funny” to “fat is deadly” to “fat is boring.” People ignore warnings about obesity the same way they disregarded the fact that smoking was deadly for decades. Deep down folks know being overweight or having a portly pet is unhealthy; they just don’t think it will happen to them. Psychologists call this phenomenon of believing you or your pet is at less risk for harm “optimism bias.” It’s a coping mechanism that allows us to get through our days without having a breakdown. It also gets in the way of change. Maybe it’s time we change how we talk about patient obesity. 


Change perception

For the last three years, I’ve altered the way I describe obesity to clients and veterinarians. Pet owners see a “big pet.” Most veterinarians see a “fat pet.” I see an “adipokine storm.” Adipo-what? 


Adipokines are signal proteins produced by fat tissue. Leptin, adiponectin and interleukin-6 (IL-6) are examples. We know adipokines cause or contribute to hundreds of harmful inflammatory processes throughout the body. Think of every fat cell as a little factory pumping out hundreds of potentially toxic compounds. Multiply that by millions or billions in an obese pet. The real danger of excess fat isn’t the fat; it’s the inflammation the fat causes. 

Inflammation is the biggest health threat our pets face. That’s a bold statement but I’m confident it’s soundly supported by science. The more we learn about excessive inflammation, the more we understand the importance of keeping it at safe levels.

Speak out

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the war on pet obesity is our silence. Veterinarians complain they aren’t comfortable talking candidly about a pet’s weight for fear of inadvertently offending the client. Forget fat; start talking about inflammation. Learn about adipokines, cytokines and disrupted metabolic pathways caused by inflammation. It’s a fascinating world of biochemistry that has real impact on our patients.

It’s time we reshape the obesity conversation to center on inflammation.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. Ernie Ward is the author of the book Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter-A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives, a speaker, and founder of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina.