Recent studies by the PDSA have revealed the shocking statistics that one third of dogs and one quarter of cats in the UK are now overweight, or obese. This amounts to 6 million overweight pet animals, and has a significant negative impact on the health, quality of life, and life expectancy of the UK pet population as a whole.
Why should we worry about obesity in our pets?
Obesity is not simply an aesthetic problem for our cats and dogs. Those animals which are overweight are at a much greater risk of developing many serious health problems.
- Osteoarthritis- joint disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart and lung disease
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Urinary tract disease
- Some cancers
- Some forms of skin disease
All of the above health problems sadly are likely to have a negative effect on the quality of life of overweight animals, and they may even lead to reduced life expectancy in individual animals. Clearly, obesity is therefore a serious problem which should be addressed. It is also important to remember that obese animals are at a greater risk of encountering problems when under general anaesthetic, and hence obesity can make it more difficult and risky to treat some surgical problems.
Why has obesity become such a significant problem in pets in the UK?
Obesity in our pets is principally caused by an imbalance between calorie intake and energy expenditure, in other words, it is the common tale of diet and exercise. Unfortunately, a large number of pets are not fed the correct diet for their lifestyle, and when eating a diet that is too high in calories, pets will develop obesity. It is true to say that there are a small number of medical conditions which can make obesity more likely, but the vast majority of cases are related to diet. Some pets are more prone to obesity (for example older animals, those which are neutered and certain breeds), but the root cause of obesity in these cases too usually lies in their diet.
The PDSA has performed extensive research on the issue of pet obesity, and interestingly this research has revealed that the majority of pet owners would fail to recognise the problem of obesity in their own pets. The majority of pet owners have an incorrect perception of what an obese pet actually looks like, with most mistakenly identifying obese animals as being of a healthy body condition. This fact helps to explain why obesity is so prevalent in our pet population today.
Feeding either the wrong diet or feeding too much food are the main problems. Treats, titbits and snacks outside of mealtimes are fed to over 90% of pets. This can significantly increase daily calorie intake, and easily tip the balance towards obesity. Reducing or stopping giving treats can sometimes seem like a very steep uphill struggle, since we all know and have experienced the pleasure of treating our pets. It can strengthen the emotional bond between us and our pets and also help with training, but controlling treating as well as adjusting diet are important parts of addressing pet obesity.
Overweight pets find it more difficult to exercise adequately, both cats and dogs, which makes it more difficult for them to burn calories. Unless their diet is adjusted accordingly, these pets sadly become more obese as time progresses, and a vicious circle can develop.
How do I know if my pet is obese?
This is sometimes not as easy as it sounds, as the PDSA studies have shown. In general terms, obese pets:
- have an increased body size
- lose an obvious ‘waist’
- have increased amounts of fat under the skin, making it more difficult to feel the ribs and bones of the spine and hips
- are less keen to exercise
- get more easily breathless when exercising
What can be done about pet obesity?
The basic steps towards weight loss are
- reducing treats, titbits and snacks
- reviewing type of diet to ensure that it is the right diet for the individual pet’s lifestyle, breed and activity level
- weighing food accurately to ensure that feeding guidelines are being followed
- feeding diets specifically designed for weight loss
- increasing exercise to safe levels
- seeking advice from your Vet or Veterinary Nurse if you are unsure whether your pet is obese, or you are struggling to reduce your pet’s weight
Choosing the correct diet and deciding the amount to feed can sometimes be complicated, particularly with the large array of commercial diets now available. Seeking advice on these choices can be a vital part of the battle against obesity, and our trained staff here at the surgery can give you all of the help and advice you need. Our trained Veterinary Nurses run a free obesity clinic, the ideal time for these issues to be discussed. Do contact the surgery for more information or to make an appointment with the nurses, if you need help and advice.
In some cases it may be necessary for your Vet to check your pet, especially if despite your best efforts your pet continues to be obese, or if other medical problems related to obesity have developed. As part of a check-up, your Vet will review your pet’s diet and lifestyle, and if necessary, check for any underlying problems. Any concurrent problems can also be investigated and treated, and supportive treatments started if needed, and a suitable diet can be selected and started. Working together as a team with you, our Vets and Nurses can make the changes necessary to produce real results, and happier, healthier, more slim line pets.
In this article we have concentrated on the problems of obesity in cats and dogs. However, it is important we don’t forget our fluffy tailed friends, rabbits, who also commonly suffer from the results of being fed too many calories.
Not all commercial diets for rabbits are the same, and some diets commonly fed allow rabbits to selectively eat the higher calorie parts of the diet. Rabbit digestive systems are designed to work hard to digest high fibre food, and for healthy body condition it is vital that the fibre content of the diet is high enough. There are some very good complete diets available now, for example Supa Rabbit Excel, and even some weight loss diets on the market, so if you are concerned that your bunny may have an expanding waistline, don’t hesitate to give us a call and we can advise you on the best course of action.’
Throughout the month of August we are offering a discount on the Hills metabolic food to help with dogs and cats who are in need of losing some weight. A 4kg bag for dogs is normally £31.66 but we are offering it at £19.99 and for cats, a 1.5kg bag is normally £19.10 which is being offered at £13.99. Please come along to our FREE Nurse Clinics to collect your discounted bag of food and get advice about feeding guidelines. You can also enter our competition to win 2 months worth of Milbemax worming tablets free of charge, which will be given to the pet who manages to shed the most weight!!