Most of us over indulge over Christmas and our pets, as part of the family, are included in this. In a recent survey, veterinary professionals estimated 46% of dogs and 34% of cats seen in practice each week are overweight or obese. This problem seems to be on the increase. In this blog we’ll talk about how to know if your pet has a problem, what you can do, and why it’s important they shed those post-holiday pounds.
Is it really that bad if my pet is overweight?
If our pets remain overweight, especially obese, this can have serious consequences. Overweight and obese cats and dogs:
● are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, a lifelong disease involving insulin injections and substantial time and financial commitment. It will shorten your pets’ lifespan even when treated.
● have a higher weight load placed through joints, speeding the progression of arthritis. The pain caused can severely affect our pets’ quality - and in some cases - quantity of life.
● have a higher risk of complications during anaesthesia and some surgical procedures.
● with respiratory issues have worsening signs with weight gain. This is most true of breeds of dogs such as pugs, who suffer upper airway disease very frequently.
● are more reluctant to play and run and will tire easily, reducing their quality of life further.
Overweight cats are more at risk of lower urinary tract disease and hepatic lipidosis, both of which can be fatal. They struggle to groom effectively causing frustration, matting and skin issues.
Rabbits need to eat part of their faeces, known as caecotrophs, from their bottom, and they need to reach it! This recycling of digestive enzymes enables them to digest roughage. Failure to do this can cause fatal digestive issues. We are seeing an increasing number of overweight rabbits. As well as suffering many of the risks already discussed, obese rabbits are frequently unable to eat caecotrophs and can become seriously ill.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
Body condition scoring looks at body shape rather than weight. This is often more helpful as there is huge variation between pets of the same species, even within the same breed. With an ideal body condition score you can feel your pet’s ribs, under a small layer of fat, a waist is visible from above and from the side a small tummy ‘tuck’ is visible.
81% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners describe their pets as being an ideal weight, but nearly a third of dog owners and half of cat owners didn’t know their pet’s weight or body condition score.
Okay, my pet is officially overweight. What can I do?
Our team can help assess your pet’s body condition score and weight, then use this to advise what your pet’s ideal weight should be and formulate a weight loss plan. Some quick tips for cats and dogs include:
● If we only occasionally give treats, our pets will keep asking on the off-chance they get one. They are opportunistic, never passing up treats even if they’re not hungry. Best to stop the treats altogether. If you must use treats, swap to carrot or cucumber pieces for dogs; or a few pieces of food from their evening meal.
● Never feed pets from the table. Ideally keep your pet in a separate room while you are eating.
● Feed a good quality commercial diet suitable for your pet’s lifestyle and age: if your pet doesn’t do much exercise they need less food; only working dogs need working dog diets; and older pets need fewer calories than younger pets. Most good quality pet foods have lifestage diets to account for this variation in needs.
● Weigh food out using the guidelines given. It sounds obvious, but pets that eat too much get fat! If your pet is only slightly overweight, feeding a bit less or changing to a lower calorie diet may be all that is needed. Drastic weight loss may require a prescription diet from a vet. These diets are lower in calories, not volume, so keep them fuller for longer.
● Any changes in diet should be done slowly over a period of a week to avoid tummy upsets.
● It is important that your pet does not lose weight too rapidly. We aim for 1-2% of starting weight per week.
● For dogs, splitting the 24hr ration into two meals means your dog will be less hungry.
● Cats prefer to graze. Weigh out their 24hr quota and most cats will graze on this through the day. If your cat is greedy, and scoffs it quickly, you may need to split it into meals.
● Exercise is vital. Walking your dog is good for human and hound. Cats and rabbits need plenty of toys, encouragement and time commitment. Puzzle feeders are great as, not only do they slow eating, but also provide brain stimulation and exercise.
Rabbits should eat 50% of the time, consuming their own body size (NOT weight!) in good quality hay per day. Munching all day keeps their gut moving and as their teeth grow continuously, keeps them ground down. An egg cup of dry nuggets (not muesli stye) and two handfuls of veg per day keeps their diet balanced. Too much pellet food or veg and they will eat less hay, potentially causing weight gain as well as gut and dental issues. Carrots are for treats, as they are full of sugar.
A good first step is to book in with us for a weight check. Start a food diary to help see where reductions can be made. Take this, along with the nutritional breakdown of any food you give, with you. If you think your pet has lots to lose, try not to feel overwhelmed. We can help you break the journey into stages and support you so it’s not so daunting. We know even a small amount of weight loss can make a difference to their quality of life, so don’t delay.