Obesity is a growing problem in our pets with an estimated 25 – 35% of them being overweight and suffering with associated health problems. Wild animals are able to regulate the amount of food they eat and the exercise they take in order to keep themselves fit. Unfortunately, our pets are not able to do this because they have to rely on us to provide their food and exercise opportunities. The RSPCA now believes obesity is an extremely serious welfare issue in our pets for the following reasons
- Obesity can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering
- In some animals obesity can be extremely disabling
- It can affect animals for long periods of their lives
- It is a preventable problem that is caused by the owners
Being overweight can also make it more likely that your pet could suffer from serious problems and conditions such as
- Heart disease
- Skin Problems
- Anal Gland Problems
- Breathing difficulties
- Ulcers / pressure sores
Is your pet overweight?
It is often difficult for us to see that our own pets are overweight. Weight gain in pets can be so gradual that we don’t notice until someone points it out to us. The next time you stroke your pet run your hands over the back and chest area. In a normal healthy animal you should be able to feel bones without applying any pressure (you should not be able to see them). Your pet should also have a visible waist line. If you cannot feel your pet’s backbone and ribs without applying pressure then your pet may be overweight. You can also look at a body condition score chart to see what shape your pet should be.
How do pets that hardly eat anything become overweight?
The main reason that pets become overweight is because the food that they eat contains more energy or calories than they can use up during exercise. Some foods are very high in calories and it doesn’t take many calories to keep a pet overweight once it gets to that stage.
One of the main causes for extra calorie intake in our pets is that we often feed the amount of food advised on the pet food feeding guides, but forget to take into account all of the extra tit-bits and treats that we feed our pets during the day. Before you give your pet a treat have a think about the amount of calories it might contain.
Our pets are also very good at manipulating us and many quickly learn that if they perform certain behaviours i.e. barking, meowing, head nudges and “the big- eyed look” they will get a treat or some more food in their bowl.
What you can do to help
It is really important that anyone who interacts with your pet understands that he or she is on a diet and must not be given extras; explain to everyone involved the benefits of keeping your pet fit and healthy and why they must cut out all of those extra food treats.
Make an appointment with a veterinary nurse who can check your pet’s weight and give you advice on how to keep your pet fit. Any weight loss should be gradual and your pet should be weighed regularly. Castle Vets Reading does not charge for these appointments.
Tips and tricks
- Weigh out your pets daily food amount rather than guessing. Measuring feeding amounts by eye is not very accurate at all and even a few extra biscuits every day soon adds up.
- Cut out all of those unnecessary tit-bits or cut back on your pet’s main food.
- Make sure you exercise your dog properly (even if it is raining) and remember that if your dog doesn’t get his or her walk, for whatever reason, then you should reduce the amount of food that you give for that day.
- Cats will often refuse to go out if the weather is not good so try to encourage more activity through play and spending time with your cat to get him or her chasing toys and moving around.
- Cats meow and dogs will bark or whine for lots of reasons – don’t be tempted to think that they are hungry every time they make a noise, because they may just be saying hello or asking for a fuss. Dogs, cats and small pets who enjoy company, will get pleasure from being groomed with a gentle brush or comb, especially if it’s on your lap in the evening.
- Play with your pet and involve him or her in some sort of training to stimulate his mind, finishing up with plenty of praise. Even little training exercises will burn some calories.
- If your dog enjoys a treat now and then try them with a piece of raw carrot or other vegetable. If you feed a dry diet, a few of those biscuits can be put aside to feed as rewards or tit-bits without adding extra daily calories.
- If you are giving your pets treats on a regular basis make sure you reduce the amount of food in their daily meals accordingly.
- Try spreading your pets food over several small meals throughout the day rather than 2 big meals morning and evening.
- Rabbits and other small animals can also benefit from toys such as balls and tunnels, especially good if they are edible and made from natural fibre and grasses. There are a fantastic array of foods on the market that are wholesome and beneficial but also help you to feel you are giving your pet something special.
- You can use scatter feeding to slow down your pets eating, make food last longer and make eating fun.
If you have any questions about overweight pets or would like more information, please contact Castle Vets Reading and we will be happy to help you.