How are your New Year’s resolutions holding up? Many people resolve in the new year to lose weight, eat healthier foods and exercise more. Often times those resolutions don’t hold up and end up abandoned. For animals at the OKC Zoo, resolutions are not needed - proper nutrition, activity level and body weight are top priorities all year long.
Maintaining proper body weight and nutrition is vital for overall health and longevity, both for our pets and the animals at the Zoo, not to mention for ourselves. Similar to humans, obesity in animals can be linked to a variety of chronic diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes. In addition, obesity causes excess stress on joints which can incite and aggravate arthritis.
How do we know what an ideal weight is for a specific animal? The Zoo is home to hundreds of different species from small insects to large elephants. Each species has a unique body structure and evaluation of weight must be tailored to fit that species. The best way to monitor each animal is by getting regular body weights and by doing body condition scores.
Body condition scoring is a method of objectively looking at an animal and evaluating certain points on the body to determine if there is too little or too much fat covering. Too little fat covering and the animal is considered underweight; too much and the animal is overweight. Each species stores fat a little differently so the method of obtaining a body condition score is based on scientifically evaluating the amount and location of fat in an animal and correlating that with body appearance.
Once enough data is collected, a body condition scoring chart can be developed. Body condition scoring charts are available for a variety of species to determine the overall score. For species in which we do not have enough data, we can utilize data from a closely related domestic animal for reference (such as using a domestic dog chart for a coyote).
Body condition score charts are generally on a scale of either 1-5 or 1-9. Scores in the middle of each range are considered ideal with lower numbers indicating underweight animals and larger numbers indicating overweight or obese animals. Body condition scores are performed on every animal at the zoo at least once a year along with review of diet and nutrition. The animals at the Zoo are all in excellent condition, but there is the occasional individual that has that little extra weight to lose. In that case, the diet is adjusted and weight is monitored. Body condition scoring is very easy to do and is a great way to monitor animal health.
Keeping the animals at the zoo, and your pets, at an ideal body weight will help ensure a long and healthy life.
-Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, director of veterinary services