The PDSA Annual Wellbeing (PAW) report has recently revealed that 81% of veterinary professionals have seen an increase in the number of overweight pets in the last few years and that the UK is currently in the grip of a pet obesity crisis. Like humans, pets become overweight when they consume more calories than their body can use or burn off; weight gain in our pets is often so gradual that we don’t always notice until someone points it out to us.
So how can you keep your pet fit and healthy?
Make sure that you are feeding your pet the correct type of food for his or her age and activity levels, many owners pick food types without taking this into account especially where older pets or pets with low activity levels are concerned.
Are you feeding the the correct amount of food? As owners we are usually great at following feeding guides on food packets, but we often forget to take into account all of the extra tit-bits we give to our pets. 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?
Weighing out your pet’s daily food allowance using your kitchen scales can make a huge difference. Did you know that measuring food by eye or by using a cup/container can be different every time by up to 50g? That may mean that your pet is getting an extra 20-170kcal per day!
If you would like any advice on what or how much to feed your pet, please contact the surgery and have a chat or book an appointment with one of our veterinary nurses. We can also advise you about how many calories your dog or cat needs to maintain a healthy weight.
Help your pet lose excess weight
Being overweight can increase the likelihood of your pet suffering from serious problems and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, breathing difficulties, high blood pressure, arthritis, skin problems, anal gland problems, cystitis, fly strike and irritability to name a few. Overweight pets are also less likely to want to interact and be playful with their family and have much shorter lifespans.
Is your pet overweight? 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. The ideal score for pets is a 5, but over 60% of pets in the UK have a body condition score of 7-9!
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, current diet 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.
We all know that exercise and mental stimulation are good for us; they can help us maintain a healthy weight, give us energy, keep joints flexible, make us feel better and help us to live longer. The same is true for our pets, so make sure that you give your pet the opportunity to stay fit and healthy.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and Ferrets can be encouraged to exercise and forage for tasty food quite easily by hiding tasty treats around their hutch and exercise area. Tasty treats and veggies can be suspended from the top of the hutch or enclosure to provide tasty and stimulating entertainment (this should be done under supervision to ensure your pet doesn’t get tangled in any string). Plastic tubing and cardboard boxes can be used to provide stimulation and encourage exploration and play. Many of these pets will also enjoy walking on a harness if you introduce it slowly and carefully, but be mindful of other animals that may be around such as cats and dogs.
Rodents and other small furries can be encouraged to exercise using wheels or exercise balls, where appropriate. You can also provide small cardboard boxes or tubes for them to climb in and out of or chew and treats can be hidden around their cage to encourage exploration. You could also invest in some plastic tubing to run around the outside of their cage to allow more space for exercise. Remember that rodents such as rats are highly intelligent and can be taught many simple tricks, using food rewards, that will keep you and them entertained.
Dogs can be great fun to exercise and their enthusiasm will encourage you to be more active too. Exercise for your canine companion will greatly depend on what you and he can cope with, but can be anything from leisurely walks in the park or around the block, to racing after a ball or a frisbee and playing with other dogs. If your dog isn’t used to lots of exercise, build up slowly over a few days to avoid any health problems or injuries. It is a good idea to warm up your dog’s muscles properly, with at least 10-15 minutes on-lead walking, before allowing him or her to race about. For extra mental stimulation and boredom prevention, try changing your walking route occasionally to keep things varied and interesting for your dog. If you can’t get outside with your dog a 10-15 minute training session, teaching a new trick or improving an old one is really good mental stimulation for your dog.
Other than walking there are plenty of other activities you can get involved in to improve your dogs fitness including swimming, agility classes, obedience training, rally O and heel work to music.
Cats can take laziness to dizzying heights; snoozing in the afternoon sun, taking cat naps after strenuous activity such as visiting the food bowl or the litter tray, and helping you watch the telly while curled up on your lap. There are plenty of things you can do to encourage your feline friend to exercise, but remember cats prefer short, frequent periods of activity, usually limited to 5 minute bursts. Good cat toys include empty cardboard boxes (some with cat-sized holes and some without) to encourage play and exploration or some paper bags with treats inside. Climbing towers and scratch posts can be made at home or purchased from pet shops and cats love to be up in high places, so even providing access to a shelf or the top of a cupboard can help them achieve this. Dangling toys attached to string or ribbon and batting toys, such as rolled up paper and ping-pong type balls, also work really well and can encourage even the laziest cat into activity. You can also train your cat to perform tricks if your cat is willing and you can find the right food motivation.
Agility clubs This website has information about agility and lists of local clubs
Pets In Practise Our local dog training club offers dog training, kennel club good citizen scheme, and Rally classes
The Kennel Club Offer lots of information on dog related activities
Cat Clicker Training A good article on training your cat
Cat Entertainment How to make a box tower for your cat
The Hay Experts Some ideas on activities and equipment for small pets