The ideal time to start taking control of your pet’s weight

January is the time when we make our new year resolutions and for many of us this will include taking control of our weight. We all know that keeping to our ideal bodyweight can reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, high blood pressure and cancer. It can also reduce mobility and aggravate pre-existing mobility conditions such as arthritis.
The same is true for our pets so this is an ideal time to start taking control of your pet’s weight so that they can lead a long and happy life.
The vast majority of pet obesity is caused either by pets eating too much food, eating the wrong sort of food and/or not exercising enough, although a small number of cases can be disease related. Often the weight builds up slowly and goes un-noticed by the owner. Regular weighing and recording is the only way to get an accurate overview of whether a pet is creeping up from their ideal weight.
Several factors make obesity more likely in pets. For example, for dogs:
Breed: certain breeds have a higher risk.
Age: the risk increases with age.
Neuter status: neutered dogs are more at risk.
Sex: apart from older dogs, obesity is reported to be more common in females.
Owners should be concerned about their pet’s weight as obesity can affect the wellbeing of the animal and lead to increased visits to the vet which will have financial implications for the owner.
To determine whether a dog or cat is overweight, a technique called body condition scoring is used. Most veterinary practices will do this free of charge for clients.
If a pet is the correct weight, the owner:
● should be able to see and feel the outline of their pet’s ribs without excess fat covering.
● should be able to see and feel their pet’s waist and it should be clearly visible when viewed from above.
● should see the pet’s belly is tucked up when viewed from the side.
Owners find it very hard to refuse slipping their pet a titbit from the table and most owners do not realise the harm that prolonged feeding of titbits is doing over time. There is also a lot of ignorance about which foods are harmful and also how much to feed each day. For example a small 28g chunk of cheese given to a dog as a treat is equivalent to one hamburger to a human and a rawhide bone chew is 67% over a 20kg dog’s daily recommended energy intake.
Obesity can be managed by a combination of exercise and diet. As with anything, owners are advised to start off slowly and gradually introduce more exercise. New diets should be introduced gradually to avoid stomach upsets, slowly increasing the levels of the new diet so that after five to seven days, the pet is solely on the new diet. If in doubt, speak to your veterinary practice for advice.
There is a bewildering choice of diets available and it is often difficult for owners to separate good marketing from clinical evidence. It is also important that dog owners take their size of dog into consideration – a single product is unlikely to suit both a small breed and a large breed dog. The pet food industry is massive and many of the producers invest heavily in scientific research to produce foods that are low in calories but have the ability to leave the pet feeling full and give the animal all the nutrition they need.
The choice for owners is compounded if their pet suffers from more than one condition ie obesity and arthritis – do they buy a mobility diet or a weight control diet?
Pet obesity continues to be a concern, with vets reporting that up to three quarters of all pets they see are over their ideal weight, so owners have to be cruel to be kind.