Did you know that an estimated 59% of Cats and 54% of Dogs in the United States are overweight or obese? And in the UK, fat cats – and dogs and rabbits – are expected to outstrip healthy ones by 2020? In fact, over 60% of vets say obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets!
Some quite worrying statistics, we think you will agree?
As with humans, obesity is a very serious health issue for pets and can lead to life-long and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes and arthritis.
Why does it matter if your pet is overweight?
Obesity is a serious welfare issue. It can cause unnecessary suffering and severely disable your pet by affecting his or her ability to perform natural behaviors such as climbing, jumping and even exercising normally, all of which can contribute to the problem itself.
Pet obesity can also cause serious health problems and make existing problems worse, thereby reducing the length and quality of your pet’s life. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure and cancers are all influenced by obesity, so keeping your pet’s weight at a healthy level is the first thing you should do to help them to live a long and healthy life.
Obese pets are at greater risk from anesthetic and surgical complications, heat or exercise intolerance, hormone problems, skin disease and urogenital disorders. Canine obesity may contribute to tracheal collapse and laryngeal paralysis, which causes enormous suffering in affected animals. It’s also a major factor contributing to snoring, which not only affects your dog, but also can affect your own health through disturbed sleep. Obesity can also exacerbate arthritis in older animals, directly affecting mobility and so making it even harder for your pet to lose weight.
Until fairly recently, fatty tissue was thought to be just a relatively lifeless energy store and insulator; but we now know it secretes hormones affecting appetite, inflammation, insulin sensitivity and bodily function, as well as influencing water balance and blood pressure leading to kidney disease and high blood pressure.
So, it’s quite clear that obesity is a serious health problem that we should all want our pets to avoid. But why is it the case that so many of our beloved animals are overweight?
What are the primary causes of pet obesity?
There are many issues contributing to the expanding waistlines of our nation’s pets, not least of which is the belief that many people have that they are actually being kind to their animals by providing treats and bigger food portions. However, they are instead (no doubt unintentionally) contributing to their pet’s poor health and limiting their lifespan.
Not following or understanding pet food feeding guidelines, providing too many treats and snacks, feeding scraps and leftovers of human food (especially those high fat and sugary carbohydrate, or even worse a combination of both!) and a lack of exercise are all contributing factors that must be addressed.
Other factors that contribute to pet obesity including age, sex, reproductive status, inactivity, environment, lifestyle, and any underlying disease that impairs exercise and results in excessive weight gain. Additionally, some breeds appear to have a higher incidence of obesity, indicating that genetics may also play a part. Similarly, neutering also has an influence, with unneutered adult dogs often weighing less than neutered dogs of the same breed.
Like us, ageing animals become less active and therefore need less daily energy, so it’s no surprise that if food intake is not decreased proportionately, your older pet can easily pile on the pounds.
However, the simple fact is that pets are being fed too much and exercised too little, which unfortunately is all too often the case with us humans too!
How to tackle pet obesity
The first thing to do is to remember that your vet is there to help you, so if you’re worried that your pet might be overweight or have questions about what you should be feeding them, ask your local vet for advice. If your dog, cat or any other pet is overweight then you must look to the fundamentals. Carefully start changing his or her feeding habits, increase their daily exercise and preceding feeding by exercise, which increases calorie consumption among other benefits.
Surprisingly, quite a few owners are still unsure about how much to feed their animals and fail to measure food accurately. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and accurately measure your pet’s daily allowance. Divide your pet’s daily amount into several meals and try not to feed them too late, as they won’t burn many calories when sleeping. Avoid feeding scraps from the table or any leftovers, and always check the daily recommended feeding guide on the packaging and weigh out the daily amount at the beginning of the day. You can then give ‘treats’ from this amount during the day, so you don’t overfeed.
However, if you have an overweight dog or cat you should consider changing to a raw food diet, which is the diet they would naturally eat in the wild and one that will give the best nutrient profile for optimum health. A raw food diet avoids all the processed ‘nasties’ such as grain, binders, colouring and preservatives which are common in pre-packaged dog and cat food and your pet will have to work harder to eat the bones and meat of a raw diet when compared to highly processed food.
There are a staggering variety of brands of dried Kibble, dehydrated, pouch, container frozen and canned foods available on the market today and many owners choose to feed their pets such pre-packaged food for convenience. If this is your choice, it is important to remember that the guidelines on the food are just that – a guide. If your pet is gaining weight consult your veterinarian, most veterinarians now conduct obesity clinics at their premises for this very reason. However, if your pet is gaining weight it normally means that he or she is being overfed for its metabolism, which may be outside the guidelines due to a sedentary life style and so you may need to choose a food that is compatible with that lifestyle. Assuming, of course, your pet does not suffer from metabolic problems such as hypothroidism.
The most appropriate shop, pet store or veterinarian pre-prepared food for your pet may need to be lower calorie or have a lower sugar composition, but this can be confusing to work out. To evaluate the sugar content of a pre-package pet food, calculate the remaining part of the 100% when you add up the ingredient percentages on the pack – this is the sugar content. The pack ingredients usually just show Ash, Fiber, Protein and Fat, with the carbohydrate and NFE (Nitrogen free energy) (which is the sugar part) omitted. Some fiber is also a soluble sugar in some foods, so the sugar content may actually be higher. In most cases (and health issues aside) tackling obesity simply means feeding less food and exercising more in a balanced way, not an easy thing for most of us to do. And it’s important to remember it is similar with Raw Food diets – overfeeding can lead to obesity.
In terms of exercise, the best approach is to find something fun for you and your pet to do. A dog can make an excellent workout partner, so you could tackle the potential challenge of your own waistline and your pets by working out together! Or why not consider taking up a fun canine activity such as agility or flyball? If it is your cat that has piled on the pounds, make sure you set aside time to play with him or her each day to encourage them to exercise more. Use battery operated toys, add vertical space and scratching posts for them to climb and interact with and consider adding food puzzles to meal and treat time (if treat time is necessary!).
We all love our pets and if they’re overweight this can shorten their life expectancy. By keeping your pet a healthy weight they will be healthier and happier and you can hopefully both enjoy each other’s company for longer.