Pet obesity is a rapidly growing problem. Just as the general population is getting larger, so too are our pet’s waistlines.
We are all guilty of giving our pets the occasional treat, but be careful – it is easy to get wrapped around their little paws and into a routine of giving them more and more. Those pleading, puppy dog eyes are hard to say no to!
It is incredibly important to try to maintain a healthy body weight for our pets – being even marginally overweight can seriously compromise our pet’s health and longevity.
It it is easier to maintain a healthy pet’s weight than encouraging them to lose it. Typically, commitment to good nutrition and fitness are the mainstays of weight management.
As vets, we no longer recommend breed standards for weights – there is far too much natural variation nowadays, so a widespread decision was made to use body condition scoring to judge what is appropriate for an individual, examples of which you can see below.
Even being marginally over their ideal weight puts our cats at risk. If they are overweight or obese, then it is really more a question of when they will develop issues, rather than if. Common problems associated with being overweight include:
- Diabetes – cats tend to develop type II diabetes, with an obese cat approximately three times more likely to develop diabetes than a cat of normal weight.
- Arthritis – excess weight can make general movement much harder and lead to issues relating to joint disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Kidney disease (often related to high blood pressure).
- Some cancers – especially abdominal.
Unfortunately, achieving weight loss in cats is not as straightforward as just reducing their food intake.
We have to be really careful not to induce a life-threatening liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. This can be a risk if they eat nothing for as little as two consecutive days.
The good news is there are excellent weight loss diets available, some of which aim to make your cat feel fuller for longer, helping to manage any potential begging activity.
The other component of weight loss, is increasing activity – not the easiest thing to institute into a cat’s lifestyle, especially if they are accustomed to being sedentary.
· One way to make feeding time more fun, and get your cat to actually work for their meal (thus using some calories up too), is to use feeding dispensers. This is best if they are fed a dry diet, but using a feeding ball or toy that they have to bat and chase around to access their food can be really useful, and also mentally stimulating.
· You can try scattering the food at meal times too (best if single cat household), again to make your cat move more, rather than just standing at a food bowl.
· Make sure you make time to play with your cat – most cats actually enjoy interaction with us, so use feather toys/balls/cat toy fishing lines etc to get them moving around. Laser pointers are great as most love to try to kill that pesky dot, but it can frustrate them as they cannot physically catch anything – so make sure you follow up with a treat or some other reward afterwards!
As vets, it can be incredibly frustrating hearing clients with dogs of healthy weight reporting they get other people commenting on “how thin their dog looks”.
There is an increasingly skewed perception of some of our rounder dogs actually becoming the norm and what people expect to see. This needs to change.
There are clearly some breed differences – we would expect differences for a chihuahua when compared to a Newfoundland – but the basics remain the same.
For a dog to be of ideal weight, you should be able to feel their ribs with light hand pressure over their spine, with a minimal fat covering. You should be able to see their waist from the side and an abdominal tuck when you look from the side. This is why your vet will rarely comment on your pets weight without getting hands on first. With hairy dogs you cannot see the tuck, but you can feel it. You can get in the routine of judging it too, ask one of our team if you need any pointers!
Being overweight is seriously detrimental to your dog’s life, and can be fatal. You really can kill your pet with kindness, albeit misguided.
There is a lot of evidence available to show a link between excess weight and shorter lifespans. Overweight dogs are also more prone to disorders that affect their quality of life, such as:
- Breathing difficulties
- Fatty tumours
- Masking of development of other cancers
Overweight animals have a much slower metabolism, so it can be very hard to break the cycle of weight gain once started. There are a couple of metabolic disorders that can lead to weight gain, but these are relatively uncommon.
Often, it is hard to understand how a small piece of cheese for our pet can make such a difference to their dietary intake.
However the images below give some idea of the equivalent calorie values in human terms. It can be a real shock to learn how many extra calories we are often giving absentmindedly.
The best way to facilitate weight loss is by controlling the calories they are eating – either by stricter management of their regular food and treats, or through changing their diet to a specific weight loss formula – and by increasing their exercise level.
Extremely overweight dogs will need more gradual methods due to the extra pressure on their organs, so don’t suddenly expect your 35kg Labrador to be able to go for a five mile run with you.
You can also use higher resistance, lower pressure therapies like hydrotherapy to help ease the strain on your dog’s joints to get them more active and build muscle again. The good news is that there are fewer concerns about diet management with dogs than with cats.
There are many ways we can help, including offering our Pet Fit Club run by our excellent nursing team.
We are here for the benefit of your pet so please speak to the team if you wish to make a big difference to your furry friend’s life.