Our pets are mirroring the human obesity growth curve, and very overweight cats and dogs are quickly becoming more common. As in humans, being overweight can cause many otherwise preventable issues for our furry friends.
The term obesity is used to describe a condition that is more serious than just being overweight. When a dog or cat is classed as obese, it means that their fat has now reached the stage where their bodies struggle to maintain good health.
In 2018, results of an online survey* suggested that around 59% of dogs and 53% of cats throughout the world are obese. This rapidly increasing problem is now so significant that the World Small Animal Veterinary Association have officially classed canine obesity as a disease.
What problems are associated with obesity in pets?
Otherwise preventable problems associated with the disease include:
- A shorter life
- Reduced quality of life
- Laboured breathing, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, skin problems, and joint conditions such as osteoarthritis
- Some forms of neoplasia (cells growing abnormally to form lumps and tumours)
Why is obesity becoming more common?
The science of weight gain is generally straightforward, and more often than not a pet is obese because they’re eating more calories than they’re burning off. There are occasions where genetics play a part, and some breeds are more likely to lay down fat than others. There might also be some medical reasons that are contributing, for example, undiagnosed joint pain restricting their movement, or an underactive thyroid slowing down their metabolism.
Before starting any weight loss journey with your pet, you should book a check-up with one of us to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues.
Don’t forget that if you’re a member of our Healthy Pet Scheme you’ll already have a full health check with a vet every year, and one six months later with a nurse. Plus you’ll receive a 10% discount off consultations with a vet all year round (if you didn’t want to wait for the next weight check to take action). Not already a member? Click here to find out more and join.
Interestingly, the online survey reported that only 24% of owners thought their pet was overweight. This suggests pet owners not realising that their pet is obese has also become a big part of the problem. When you see your pet every day, and pets around you are slowly getting bigger too, a larger size becomes normal.
How do I know if my pet is overweight?
Dogs: Visual checks you can do at home that will give you an idea of your dog’s condition:
- You should be able to see their ribs under their coat, or if they have a thick coat, you should be able to feel them.
- A clearly defined waist should be visible from the side and from above
- When you look at them from the side, you shouldn’t be able to see a rounded or saggy belly
Cats: Visual checks to tell if your cat is overweight are similar:
- Ribs, spine and hips should be clearly visible, or if they have a long coat, you should be able to feel them through it.
- When you look down on them, they should have a clearly defined waist.
- They should only have a small amount of belly fat, and it shouldn’t be hanging down.
Although it’s too late for some, the best way to maintain a healthy weight is through regular monitoring throughout their life. If you’re a member of the Healthy Pet Scheme, we include a twice-yearly health check as part of your membership and consultations with a nurse are free and unlimited.
I think my pet is overweight. What should I do?
More pets are being fed complete diets in the form of biscuits, and this has resulted in well-nourished animals, as the nutritional quality of the food makes sure they get all they need. The downside of biscuits is that it’s easy for us to fill their bowl each day as that seems like the right amount to give them, and it’s often way too much.
To ensure they aren’t consuming more calories than they need, check the pet food packaging. Many pet foods come with a cup with a portion size printed on the side. If not, weigh the food using kitchen scales until you get an idea about how much they should have each day, then split that across their meals.
Take care with extra treats! For a small dog, one biscuit can be the additional calorie equivalent of a burger.
How much exercise should pets have?
Dogs need to be walked every day, although the amount of exercise they need varies depending on their breed, age, size and general health. Your dog should be either walking or running for between 30 minutes and two hours daily. Hunting and working breeds need the most exercise and plenty of time to run around and explore off the lead.
Cats will only do exactly what they want when they want. This includes active time, and they’ll control their own, although you can encourage them to want to move around by getting some irresistible-to-cats toys – lights that move, balls to chase around tubes, feathers on sticks, and small cat toys, are often enjoyed but try a few and see which ones result in a playful cat.
The best approach to pet weight management is to monitor and prevent excessive weight gain
As many of us know from personal experience, losing weight can be tedious and hard work. It’s much easier to maintain weight by making tweaks to calorie intake and activity levels when needed, and better for long-term health too.
Each time you come into the practice we will weigh your pet and record their weight so we can keep an eye on them, then we can make any adjustments to diet and exercise as soon as we need to.
If you’d like to discuss your pet’s weight, diet or lifestyle with us then call us on Castle Cary: 01963 350307 or Yeovil: 01935 474690 to arrange an appointment.
Don’t forget that if you’re a member of the Healthy Pet Scheme consultations with a nurse are free – as are weight checks – so just call and book a time convenient for you.
* The survey was conducted online during January and February 2018. The total sample size was 5,309 cat and dog owners who were responsible for their pet’s health and well-being (Brazil 1,068; China 1,036; Russian 1,111; United Kingdom 1,023 and United States 1,071).