Obesity is a growing problem in our pets with an estimated 1 in 3 dogs and 1 in 4 cats in the UK being overweight and suffering with associated health problems. Unfortunately our pets are not able to regulate their food intake and exercise themselves like wild animals do, because they have been domesticated and now rely on us to provide these things for them. Obesity is an extremely serious welfare issue in our pets for the following reasons
- It is a preventable problem that is caused by the owners
- 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
Being overweight can also make it more likely that your pet could suffer from serious problems and conditions such as
- Heart disease
- Breathing difficulties
- High Blood Pressure
- Arthritis, Joint Problems and Injuries
- Skin Problems – caused by the inability to clean themselves properly
- Anal Gland Problems
- Incontinence (bitches)
- Ulcers / pressure sores
- Fly Strike (Maggot infestation) – a particular problem for rabbits who cannot clean themselves.
- Overweight and obese pets usually have shorter lives than fitter pets.
- Overweight pets also tend to interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful.
Because overweight pets tend to lie around, it is often easy to overlook the early signs of illness, because owners often just brush off their lethargy and reluctance to exercise as ‘normal laziness’.
Is your pet overweight?
It is often difficult for us to see that our own pets are overweight because 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) and 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?
Like humans, pets become overweight when they consume more calories than the body can use or burn off during exercise. Some foods are very high in calories so it doesn’t take much 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. Did you know that some of the more popular pet chews, treats and dental aids on the market can make up approximately 1/3 or more of your pet’s daily calorie allowance when they are fed the recommended daily portion?
Other reasons for weight gain may be
Manipulation – 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. Dogs can quickly learn who they are more likely to get food from and we know how hard it is to ignore the cat that sits by the food bowl and meows pitifully until someone gives in?
Scavenging – Some pets are scavengers, from stealing food from plates, kitchen counters or bin raiding to scavenging anything edible on their daily walks. Cats have also been known to visit several different houses and ask for or steal food.
Illnesses and Medications – Some illnesses can cause weight gain particularly if they slow down the metabolism or cause fluid to build up in various parts of the body. Certain medications, such as steroids, can also contribute to weight gain.
What Castle Vets can do to help
Helping your pet lose weight will require a commitment to the weight loss and overall fitness of your pet from the whole family, but is well worth the effort and is easier than you think.
Our free Healthy Weight Clinic is managed by qualified and registered veterinary nurse Clare Espley, who has a special interest in companion animal nutrition. After assessing your pet, Clare will make a weight loss plan that is based on your pet’s lifestyle and individual requirements and advise you on the best way for you to help your pet lose his or her excess weight and keep it off.
Each pet is an individual and so each weight loss plan will be specially designed based on your pets own requirements. Some pets are able to lose weight on their current food, but for those that may need more help we may recommend that your pet is put on a special calorie controlled diet food to help him or her lose weight. The reason for this is because calorie-controlled veterinary diets are specially designed to help pets lose weight but still have a ‘full up’ feeling. Helping your pet to feel full up will usually prevent them begging and stealing other food.
Regular monitoring and weight checks are essential to ensure that your pet is losing weight at a safe rate and so that any adjustments to your pet’s diet can be made as necessary. During the Healthy Weight Clinic appointments your pet will be weighed and measured and any adjustments to your pet’s diet and exercise can be discussed. Most pets really enjoy coming in for these appointments (even the nervous ones).
To make an appointment for the Healthy Weight Clinic you can contact Castle Vets on 0118 9574488 or visit the Castle Vets website
What you can do to help
Weight loss is hard for anyone whether four legged or two legged, but losing weight can vastly improve your pet’s quality of life and can help your pet live much longer. 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 on a set of kitchen scales rather than guessing. Measuring feeding amounts by eye or by using a feeding cup or scoop 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.
- Try and find out who the ‘sneaky feeders’ are amongst your family and friends; many people give pets food without even realising they are doing it!