Getting your pet in shape!

Many people see the New Year as an opportunity to get fitter... and perhaps at the same time many of us could do with losing a little weight! But what about our pets - what about their fitness and weight? In the same way that our waistlines can creep up on us, so our pets can tend to put on weight without our even noticing it until they are overweight. This blog looks at the effect of this extra weight on our pets’ bodies, and at how we can intervene to keep them at their ideal weight.

So what does having an overweight pet mean?
If your pet is carrying a bit too much weight, this excess fat can have implications for their health, just as it does in humans. However, humans can take action directly (exercising or dieting, or ideally both) - but we have to help our pets. Overweight dogs and cats are at increased risk of:

  • Joint and muscle problems.
  • Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes).
  • Problems with breathing.
  • Skin disease and coat issues.
  • Complications if they ever need surgery or an anaesthetic.

Being overweight also means more work to push blood around the body, causing alterations in heart function and maybe even increasing the risk of heart disease.
All in all, we need to remember that, whether you’re a pet or a human, being overweight is likely to shorten your lifespan.

Can my pet really get those things from being overweight?
Yes, they really can! Each one is quite logical when you come to think of it.

Joint and muscle pain - the heavier the pet, the more difficult it is for them to move themselves around (imagine carrying a backpack full of weights everywhere you go). The energy needed for any movement will be much greater, which puts additional strain on the joints, the muscles, the tendons, and the ligaments of the animal. This extra effort may mean that they want to exercise less. This then becomes a vicious circle: their legs hurt, so they exercise less, so they burn fewer calories, so they put on even more weight… and so on.

Diabetes - just like in people, excess body fat interferes with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. The end result may be insulin resistance, ultimately causing diabetes.

Breathing problems - additional energy is required to move, meaning more airflow is needed. However, at the same time, the extra fat outside the rib-cage and below the diaphragm makes it harder for the pet to breathe in, limiting their ability to increase airflow. In those breeds with a very short nose (e.g. Pugs, Bulldogs, Persians, or Lionheads), this problem is exaggerated by their anatomy, and may result in severe breathing problems.

Skin and coat issues - overweight pets frequently have trouble reaching round to groom themselves all over - sometimes through discomfort in moving or forcing stiff joints, and sometimes simply as a function of their equator (waistline)! The result is often an unkempt coat, and in some cases secondary skin infections.

Complications from surgery - overweight animals are at a significantly increased risk of complications during surgery or anaesthetic. Anaesthetics tend to be more complex because of the difficulties in breathing that many obese animals have (see above), but another important factor revolves around the medicines used. Many anaesthetic drugs are fat soluble, so an obese patient’s body will not handle them in the same way that one of normal weight would. This often results in the pet being anaesthetised longer than expected, and recovering more slowly as the body has to work harder to rid itself of the anaesthetic agent. Surgery is also more complex, as the surgeon has to deal with an excess of fat in any incisions or wounds, which makes the procedure more difficult and more time-consuming. Finally, fat does not respond to injury as well as skin or muscle does, and a condition called fat necrosis can cause problems in the recovery phase.

What can we do to help our pets?
If you want to lose weight, eating a good diet and getting enough exercise are the keys. And we can help with both of these!

Our experienced staff will be able to assess your pet’s weight and, crucially, their body condition, and assess firstly, whether they are indeed overweight; and secondly, what their ideal weight should be. This will give us a target to aim for!

The next thing we will consider is their current diet and feeding regime. Are they always hungry? If so why is that? Is their diet fully balanced, are they getting enough of everything - or contrariwise, are they getting too much of something (such as treats or leftovers)?

We can then prepare a personalised diet and exercise plan for your pet as an individual - sometimes including specialised foods to encourage a feeling of fullness, while still reducing calorie intake. A regular monitoring programme will help us keep on top of the situation, and allow us to “fine tune” the plan based on their unique metabolism.

It takes time to lose weight - a safe weight loss is usually about 1% per week - but it is definitely worth it for the health and welfare benefits your pet will be able to enjoy. If your pet is overweight, or indeed underweight, do get in touch and let us help you to help them!