Obesity is an increasing problem for pets and owners alike with many pets being heavier than they should be which will shorten their lifespan and predispose them to many other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, liver disease, breathing difficulties, heat intolerance and digestive upsets. The extra weight will significantly increase any risks associated with anaesthetics or sedations and will cause your pet to require a larger dose of medication e.g. pain relief if they develop arthritis. Most medications are given based on weight so a heavier pet means treatment is more expensive as more tablets are required. This extra medication also needs to be processed by the liver and kidneys which should belong to a lighter dog so extra work is required to break down and remove waste products.
What is the correct weight for my pet?
There is a great variation in body type between breeds just as there is in people. A general rule to assessing whether a pet is overweight is how easily you can feel their ribs. You should just be able to feel the ribs without pressing too hard and not be able to see them. If you are having to press firmly then your pet is overweight, if you cannot feel their ribs at all then it is likely they are clinically obese and veterinary help should be sought immediately
What should I feed my pet?
Most commercial pet foods are carefully researched and formulated to provide a balanced diet. You should look at the range on offer to decide which is most suitable for your pets health and lifestyle. We can give advice on a case by case basis via e-mail or alternatively contact your local veterinary practice or pet shop.
Many types of pet food will vary in the types of ingredients and the quality of the ingredients used and this will usually be reflected in the price. However some premium foods do not require as much to be fed so may not be as expensive as they seem on first impressions. It is usually the amount of food consumed rather than the type which leads to obesity. If more calories are being taken in than are used up these must be stored as fat. If your pet is overweight it is important to find out why as this can help with losing weight. The following points may help:
• Are they neutered? This reduces the need for energy for reproductive reasons and may require an adjustment to their feeding regime post surgery.
• How much are they fed? Is this a similar amount to the feeding guide on the food or is it more than recommended?
• How much exercise do they receive and has this decreased recently?
• How many people take responsibility for feed times?
• What extras do they receive?
• Has the food bowl been changed recently?
Where do I start?
Your veterinary practice will be prepared to advise you on a suitable weight loss regime and most offer free weight clinics with specially trained nurses. Some people feel embarrassed or find it difficult to ask for this kind of help just as some veterinary professionals find it a difficult subject to broach as people can take comments personally. People who are willing to put in the hard work usually receive the level of support they need it is those that ignore or are not willing to accept that obesity is a life threatening problem that frustrate those who are trying to help them.
Start by measuring out the amount of food your pet should be getting based on the feeding guide from the pet food packet. This is a guideline as some pets will require more and some less than the recommended amount to keep them at optimal body condition. If it is a dry food this can be marked on a cup or mug and represents their daily ration including treats and extras. If your pet is overweight then their intake of calories needs to be reduced to encourage the body to use fat reserves. Extreme care should be taken in just cutting down the amount you offer as you are also reducing the amount of vitamins and minerals they receive. If these drop below a critical point then there is a risk of nutritional deficiencies. The most successful and safest method of weight loss usually involves a calorie controlled prescription diet and exercise programme. Alternatively you could make gradual changes to the diet you already offer.
• Begin by cutting out all extras and treats and weighing out the correct amount of food for your pets size. If you want to give a treat take it out of their daily food ration. It is the act of giving and attention received that is often more important than the treat itself.
• Divide their ration into several small meals rather than 1 large meal.
• Gradually increase exercise depending on the health of the pet and the degree of obesity. This can include making them find their food or having to extract it from a food dispensing toy. Swimming is good low impact exercise for arthritic animals and there are an increasing number of hydrotherapy centres available. Always stop if your pet appears distressed. Consult your vet for an exercise regime in cases of heart or lung disease.
• Cats may need to be kept indoors initially to prevent them obtaining food from other sources such as neighbours or hunting themselves!
• Reweigh every 2 weeks initially to make sure they are losing weight and this weight loss is not too rapid. Consult your veterinary nurse for advice.
• Remember they are much smaller than you and a decrease of 100g in a 5kg Cat or Yorkshire terrier represents losing 2% of their bodyweight. This is the same as a 40kg Labrador losing 800g (1lb 12oz). This would be a safe amount to lose over the course of 2 weeks.
• It may be possible to reduce your pets food intake by up to 15% but extreme care should be taken in doing this as nutritional deficiencies may result. Your veterinary nurse should be consulted for advice for reducing your pets daily ration.
• Calorie controlled prescription diets should be considered for those pets who do not lose weight through controlling their current diet and gradually increasing exercise.
• Remember to use the same scales and make a record of the weight so that the rate of weight loss can be seen.
This advice cannot compare to the individual weight loss programme formulated by a qualified veterinary nurse. It is strongly advised that you keep in contact with your veterinary practice whilst conducting a weight reduction programme.