By LAUREN OTLEY, Canine Nutrition Consultation & Therapy www.thedognutritionist.com
Just like humans, pets become overweight when their calorific intake exceeds their energy output. In other words too much, or the wrong type of food, and too little exercise!
Whilst inappropriate nutrition and overfeeding are primary causes of pet obesity, there are certain factors that make some pets more prone to weight gain than others. You may think your roly-poly dog looks cute, and you find it hard to resist those eyes, but obesity can cause serious health and welfare implications.
As a pet owner, it is crucial to pay close attention to diet and exercise, particularly if your pet falls into one of the high risk categories:
Some BREEDS are more prone to obesity than others
Risk increases with AGE
NEUTERED pets are more at risk (particularly females)
Elderly or less active OWNERS are more likely to have overweight pets
Certain ILLNESSES can cause weight gain
We all know being fat is not an optimum body condition and, the majority of us would not want to do anything to put the health of our animal at risk. So why do we still have such a problem with pet obesity? The answer is that generally, there is a misconception about what an ideal weight looks like.
Recently, I met a lady who was worried that her puppy was too thin and wasn’t eating enough compared to her sister. Looking at her dog, I could see she was a healthy weight and if anything, could have done with losing a little not gaining it! It emphasised to me that fat pets are so common, people have started to think that is what they should look like. This has resulted in owners of healthy, fit animals believing, or being incorrectly told by others, that their pets are underweight.
Obesity shortens lives
The health implications associated with pet obesity are often underestimated. Excess weight puts strain on all areas of the body, not just the joints and limbs. It contributes to many health problems and chronic disease such as:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Lethargy resulting from being overweight can sometimes mask illness, delaying diagnosis and treatment. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that being obese reduces life expectancy by 2.5 years.
Is my pet fat?
You can assess your pet’s condition by observing what their body looks and feels like. Do this regularly, and make note of any changes.
|RIBS||Easily felt but not seen||Cannot be felt|
|WAIST (veiwed from above)||Definitive waist tucking in behind the ribcage||No waist, or the waist is wider than the ribcage|
|ABDOMEN (viewed from the side)||Clear abdominal tuck – i.e. the area behind the ribs should be smaller in diameter than the ribcage||No abdominal tuck|
My top tips:
#1 Feed a good quality diet – my number 1 rule! If you do not start with a good diet, maintaining your pet’s condition will be an uphill struggle.
#2 Feed less – it really is as simple as that. If your pet starts to look a little bit on the tubby side, just feed them a little less. Please don’t take feeding guidelines on food labels as gospel: the best way to decide how much to feed your pet is to look at their condition. If they are a healthy weight eating 200g less than what it says on the packet, that is all they need.
#3 Treats in moderation – the bottom line is, we all love to give treats! It makes us happy and it makes our pets happy, but it is important not to overdo the extra snacks. If you are doing lots of training with your dog, feed small, good quality treats and nothing too fatty. If you want to give treats every day, set an appropriate allowance and stick to it (no, the allowance should not be 50 treats a day!). If your pet breaks into the treat tin or you have a friend that likes to spoil them, just reduce the size of their main meal that day to compensate.
# Exercise – Ensure there is a good balance between the amount of food your pet consumes and their activity level. Remember, mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise: it helps to burn calories too!
Keeping our animals at an optimum weight should be at the top of our list of priorities regarding their welfare. Let’s all keep educating and spreading the word – we want a nation of fit pets, not fat ones!
Sources : Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: Obesity Facts and Risks; RSPCA : Pet Obesity