Obesity is one of the greatest threats that domestic pets face. Poor diet, a lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle habits leave cats and dogs susceptible to the ailments that often accompany obesity, including joint strain, spinal weakness, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.  However, not many people are aware that obesity also lends itself to lung failure and respiratory issues.

When overweight humans ascend steep staircases, or walk decent distances in the heat, they pant and suffer from shortness of breath. This is due to the overcompensation of the heart, which has to work harder to pump more blood throughout the body in the midst of exercise. Having a higher content of fat in the body mass index affects the diaphragm, and causes restricted movement from the lung and chest area.  The same effect occurs in obese domestic pets. If you are concerned that your cat or dog might suffer from lung strain or lung failure because of his weight status, there is a brief diagnostic test you can run to gauge your pet’s respiratory health.  This is called the 6-minute walking test.

Measuring Lung Function in Obese Pets

The 6-minute walking test may be conducted at any time of the day. A dog or a cat will have to walk for 6 minutes straight, at whatever pace they feel comfortable proceeding in. The vet will review the heart rate of the patient, as well as their respiration and oxygen levels in the bloodstream at different intervals of the test, measuring before, during and after the exercise. Once these are recorded, an animal can re-take the test at a later date, when their weight has increased or fluctuated, and the results can be compared to see how the lung function is either improving or getting worse.

This study was once conducted on two groups of Beagle dogs, one healthy group and another obese. Their initial readings were recorded then monitored while the heavy group was on a very rigorous diet and exercise program. It was found that the lung capacity, fluidity of breathing and ease greatly improved as the dogs lost weight and became more physically adept. Doctors then found that the reason why an obese person or pet’s heart rate increases so dramatically during exercises is actually due to the limited oxygen they are receiving, due to lung failure and rapid blood circulation. This study reinforces the reality that obesity in both humans and pets negatively impacts many aspects of health, including the lung’s ability to function properly.