Obesity and our pets

This month’s blog post follows on from last months tips about the benefits of feeding a high quality specifically formulated diet. Food is such a huge part of our pet’s wellbeing and something that we, as owners, can have complete control over… well mostly unless they swipe that treat off the table when we aren’t looking! We are responsible for maintaining our pet’s healthy weight as diet choice is one of the leading causes of obesity.

It's nearing the end of Winter and if you’re anything like me the thought of getting into Summer clothes means giving up those extra winter comforts and getting back on track. Take a moment to think of your pets as well. I have seen first handed a complete turn-around in personality and increased energy levels in many patients who are now at their ‘ideal’ weight. To put it simply, these patients are happier and, of course, healthier for it and all it may take is a few simple changes. Make the switch to a complete and balanced diet (see last month’s blog), reward your pet with low-fat treats such as dehydrated chicken breast pieces or even their kibble in frozen pieces, stop those table scraps and encourage activity. These few steps can kick start your pet into living a healthier, longer life.

What causes obesity?

Excessive dietary intake and imbalanced diets with too little exercise stand out as a primary cause of obesity in our pets. Other factors to consider are disease processes and behavioural factors. There are some diseases such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease and prescribed drugs that can also cause obesity. Interestingly enough, pet behaviour and the human-animal bond can have a big impact on obesity. For example, an indoor-only cat is less active compared to an outdoor cat. The difference between cats and dogs can sometimes be overlooked as well. For dogs, eating is a social function, also like humans but cats do need any social interaction when feeding. When a cat initiates contact owners may misinterpret this for hunger when in fact it’s not. However, cats are very intelligent and soon learn that they will be fed a reward for initiating contact and so the cycle continues.  It’s up to us to provide them with the best quality food we can and have a better understanding of our pet’s social behaviours. A pet who is a healthy weight will have fewer diseases and will live longer as a result.

What is an ideal weight?

This depends on species, breed and age. I use a body condition scoring system which evaluates your pet on criteria such as palpable ribs, a waistline, fat deposits and muscling. Most vet’s use this system and score your pet out of nine, this helps determine how much weight your pet needs to lose or gain to reach their ideal body condition.

Why is maintaining an ideal weight important?

The growing problem of obesity in our companion pets is a serious health issue within our profession. Studies show that obese pets are predisposed to orthopaedic disease, cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer, skin disorders, respiratory diseases and have an increased anaesthetic risk.  The external fat we can see without eyes is only half the problem as fat accumulates around the heart and other vital organs impairing their normal function. We all love our pets and for your pet to live their longest life possible, maintaining an ideal weight is of paramount importance. Talk to your vet today about getting a body condition score done on your fur baby, what only takes a few minutes could be potentially lifesaving.

What can I do to prevent obesity?

The obvious answer is to increase physical activity if there is no underlying condition preventing you to do so e.g painful arthritis, cardiac or respiratory disease. For your cat encourage playtime at home and get them to work for their food by providing obstacle courses around the home or playing with cat toys prior to feeding. Feed a complete and balanced diet incorrect amounts for weight age. Restrict salty, fatty treats such as meat straps and mince and table scraps. Treat with low-fat alternatives such as carrot, dry kibble or dehydrated chicken breast. Get a physical exam performed by your vet to help determine any underlying disease processes such as diabetes or an underactive thyroid. Have fun with your pet! Get out their now the weather is warming up and enjoy this beautiful world we live in even if that’s just a stroll in the sunshine, it all adds up!