August 3, 2022 — Americans are notorious for overfeeding their pets. In 2018, nearly 56 million cats and 50 million dogs were overweight or obese. But when you can’t reduce the kibble and trim the pâté, could bariatric surgery be the solution for your drunk companions?
To answer the question, veterinarians at Cornell University performed slimming surgery on a pair of obese cats. A few days after the operation, the animals had no pain medication and were eating normally. Within 2 months, the cats lost half the weight they had gained during the study.
“There have been a lot of studies on weight loss surgery on animals, but for humans,” said Nicole Buote, DVM, a Cornell veterinarian who performed the operations. “To my knowledge, this is one of the first times surgery has been done to examine its benefits for animals, as opposed to benefits for humans.”
Partial gastrectomy: what is it?
Buote and his colleagues performed a partial gastrectomy on both cats after they were fattened up to 50% more than their ideal body weight. Even then, no kitten was terribly pot-bellied; one weighed 15 pounds before the operation, the other 9 pounds – a far cry from the record holder.
As in humans, partial gastrectomy involves removing part of the gastric pouch to reduce it. The remodeled organ holds less food, which means patients – in this case, felines – feel full faster and eat less.
The laparoscopic procedure takes just under 2 hours and requires general anesthesia. The cats were comfortable and recovered without complications, Buote said.
The cats in Buote’s study coped well with the operation and they lost weight: the 15-pounder had dropped to 12.5 pounds after the procedure, while the other went from 9 to 7 pounds. But more research is needed to confirm whether the surgery will help fight obesity and diabetes, she says.
“Cats often suffer from type 2 diabetes, and just like in humans, there is a benefit to losing weight in diabetes,” says Buote. “Our goal is to see if this is a great option for some obese animals.”
Of course, as with people, surgery shouldn’t be the first step in a pet’s weight loss journey, she says.
“As much as I love surgery, I don’t want to do partial gastrectomies on cats and dogs just because their owners don’t want to create a healthier environment for them,” she says.
Diet and exercise changes are important first steps for your pet, and a veterinarian can help you make these changes before you do anything else.
Although this surgery is still in the research phase, owners could face a $2,500 to $3,500 hospital bill if they ultimately choose this route for their feline friends, Buote says.
But rapid weight loss can be deadly for felines.
“If cats lose weight too quickly, they can develop fatty liver disease and die,” says Raymond Kudej, DVM, PhD, surgeon and instructor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, MA. “There could easily be complications from the surgery. The results would be unpredictable.
The lesson for pet owners, in other words, is this: it’s better to watch what you put in their bowls than to let it go under the knife.