Understanding pet obesity and striving towards a healthy lifestyle for your pets.
As pet owners, we control our animals’ diets, so our pets don’t have the same “winter” excuse. The onus is thus on us to maintain them at a healthy weight and prolong their lives.
The prevalence of pet obesity is rising every year and although there are a few medical conditions, for example hypothyroidism, that can predispose an animal to weight gain, the majority of obesity can be attributed to the caloric inputs exceeding the outputs.
What is the definition of obesity in pets?
Obesity is defined as excess body fat which has adverse health effects. It decreases our pets’ life spans and predisposes them to developing numerous medical conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart, liver and kidney disease to name a few. This is due to the fat cells (adipocytes) causing an increase in inflammatory mediators and oxidative stress on the body and the excess weight load that the body has to work against.
Many of us give in to our pets begging for table scraps and treats which are often calorie loaded. What we don’t realize is that for example, giving one dental chew to our pets is equivalent to us eating one chocolate bar. This, combined with the stressful demands of modern society, means that our pets are generally not getting the exercise that they require, and thus they are gaining weight rapidly.
What are the factors which cause pets to gain weight?
Many people blame sterilization as the cause for their pets weight gain.
Sterilisation does alter the hormonal balance of the body, and thus affects the metabolic rate, however, by adjusting feeding accordingly, this should not impact on your pets weight significantly.
If decreasing the quantity of food leaves your pet hungry, there are also specially formulated “light” foods which can be fed. These are lower in calories but have the correct amount of nutrients and vitamins needed. They are also higher in fibre to help you pet feel satisfied for longer. Some foods even claim to aid in increasing the basic metabolic weight.
Other factors which may play a role include the breed of dog or cat. Many dog and cat breeds have been specifically bred to perform certain functions. In some cases certain traits have been over exaggerated and have lead to those breeds having a greater tendency to put on weight. Common examples include Bulldogs, Dachshunds and Labradors in dogs, and Persians, British Shorthairs and Sphynxs in cats.
Is it possible for my pet to loose weight and return to living a healthier lifestyle?
Absolutely! As pet owners we are lucky enough to have a wealth of resources at our disposal when it comes to pet weight loss. In general your pet’s weight loss journey starts with changing them over to the correct diet, feeding the correct amounts and increasing exercise.
Seeking assistance from your veterinarian and/or pet weight loss clinic
Many veterinary clinics across the country run weight loss clinics for pets where knowledgeable staff assess the percentage of weight your pet needs to lose and the correct diets he or she needs to be on to achieve its goal.
In addition, it is vital that your vet rule out any health conditions which may be causing weight gain. Once medical conditions have been ruled out, dieting under the supervision of your vet or weight loss clinician should begin.
Weight Loss tips for your pet
Our pets can be treated with toys, a game, or attention as a reward. Low calorie treats such as veggies (e.g. carrots) or special light biscuits can also be given as an alternative.
When feeding ones pet, it is recommended to feed them a set amount as stipulated by the manufacturer or by your weight loss clinic, not just fill the bowl and allow them to eat as much as they like. This amount is, however, merely a recommendation and one should fine tune the quantity according to each animals body condition. Feeding set meals also allows you to monitor you pets eating habits which enables the owner to recognise problems sooner.
As dogs and cats come in many different shapes and sizes, there is no ONE ideal weight for all. Each animal is evaluated individually and the Body Condition is often used as a weight reference instead of the actual kilogram mass. An ideal weight is one where the animal has a visible waistline when viewed from the top, the belly is tucked in when viewed from the size and the ribs can be felt with light pressure.
Don’t be discouraged by the gradual weight loss. Controlled weight loss will take months of hard work from both you and your pet! Once the ideal weight is achieved you and your pet will be rewarded by many years of healthy, happy companionship!
Dr Lara Frampton