…. and cats that definitely got the cream…
How UK pet owners are killing their pets with kindness
As we begin to settle into 2017, how many of you have kept to those New Year’s resolutions? Whilst people are trying to stick to their healthy lifestyle choices and diets, a study carried out by vet charity the PDSA highlights that we should be making the same effort when it comes to our pets’ health.
The study shows that one in three dogs and one in four cats in the UK are overweight. Although it seems many people are becoming more conscious about the ingredients in their pets’ food, they are still overfeeding their animals and supplementing their diets with calorific treats.
Fat animals are my pet peeve, no pun intended. I feel genuinely sad when pets come into the practice, who are kilograms overweight. Unfortunately, these are the pets that visit us most often, as with humans, obesity increases the risks of other health conditions such as:
- Joint disease – which in turn will effect your pets ability to exercise and lose weight
- Heart disease
- Breathing difficulties – especially in pets with short noses
- Liver disease
- Exercise intolerance
- Reduced lifespan
There are many factors that can increase the likelihood of your pet putting on weight, such as age, breed, diet, lifestyle and whether your pet has been neutered or not. Older pets activity levels often decrease in their later years, meaning they don’t need as many calories on a day-to-day basis.
Certain breeds have been found to have a predisposition to obesity, demonstrating that genes can play a part. The most common breeds that become overweight are Labrador and Golden Retrievers, most Spaniel breeds, Beagles and brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs. However, owning a breed that is predisposed to obesity is no excuse for your dog to be overweight.
Brachycephalic (short nosed breeds like Etty my Boston Terrier) breeds are becoming more popular and unfortunately so are the rates of obesity in these breeds. Due to the structure of their faces, short nosed breeds can struggle to breath and regulate their temperatures at the best of times, let alone when they’re carrying extra layers of fat.
There is a much higher incidence of obesity in neutered pets than unneutered pets. The presence of some hormones, which are significantly reduced after neutering, can slow down fat production. Generally neutered pets require a lower intake of calories and there are many commercial pet foods that are specifically formulated for neutered pets.
Despite these factors, the most common reasons for pets carrying extra weight are too many calories and not enough exercise.
Not only do people simply feed their pets too much of their commercial dog or cat food, they feed them treats which are high in calories and share their own foods with them. The study above showed that over 4 million pets are fed table scraps as their main meal of the day. These ‘meals’ are often full of unsuitable foods for pets and are too high in fat, sugar and salt and even more dangerously can contain foods that are toxic to pets, such as onions.
Of course we all like treating our pets, however we must think carefully about what we are feeding and how much of it we are feeding.
Consider substituting fattier treats for something healthier, such as raw fruit and veg for dogs or a small amount of lean meat, like chicken for cats. If you’re training your pet, you may need to use treats to gain results. If so, significantly cut down your pets’ main meal on the days you do train, or use part of your pets’ main meals as treats instead.
I completely understand how difficult it is to ignore puppy dog eyes and demanding cat yowls. Find the willpower to withhold that food and your pets will soon realise that begging gets the nowhere. If you (or the family) can’t resist, keep them in another room whilst you eat your meals.
Make your pets work for their food. Lazy cats and dogs can be encouraged to move more by making feeding time interesting. Treat balls and puzzle feeders can slow down fast eaters and keep their minds working for longer. Cats can be encouraged to move more by splitting meals and feeding these in different areas of the house.
Recently, I was told by the owner of a small dog, that “she doesn’t really need walking because she’s only little”. The dog in question was around two kilograms overweight (a significant amount of extra weight for a small breed dog to carry) and looked truly miserable. Whilst shorter legged dogs may not be able to sustain the same distances reached by more athletically built breeds on a walk, they certainly should get their fair share of physical and mental stimulation – not just a trot around the block on the end of a lead.
So how can you tell if your pet is overweight? In veterinary practice we use a system called “Body Condition Scoring” – a scale of one to nine, allowing us to show owners where on the scale their pet fits. This is more effective than working on weights alone due to the huge variety of sizes, breeds and body types in both dogs and cats.
The scale is classified below:
- Too thin
- Ribs, spine, hipbones and all bony prominences evident from a distance. No apparent body fat. Obvious loss of muscle.
- Ribs, spine and hipbones easily visible. No distinct fat. Some evidence of other bony prominences. Minimal loss of muscle.
- Ribs easily felt and may be visible with no distinct fat. Tops of spine visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist and tummy ‘tuck’.
- Ribs easily felt, with minimal fat covering. Waist easily noted when viewed from above. Tummy tuck evident.
- Ribs felt without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Tummy tucked up when viewed from the side.
- Ribs felt with slight excess fat covering. Waist can be seen when viewed from above but not obvious. Abdominal tuck is apparent.
- Ribs felt with difficulty; heavy fat cover. Noticeable fat areas over the rump and base of tail. Waist absent or barely visible. Tummy tick may be present.
- Ribs not able to be felt under very heavy fat cover, or felt only with a lot of pressure. Heavy fat deposits over the rump area and base of tail. Waist absent. No tummy tuck. Obvious stomach bloating may be seen.
- Massive fat deposits over chest, spine and base of tail. Waist and tummy tuck absent. Fat deposits on neck and limbs. Obvious stomach bloating.
If you feel your pet is either gaining or losing weight, always start by booking an appointment with your vet for a general health check. There are underlying conditions that can cause both weight gain and weight loss, which can be ruled out by a vet.
Many veterinary practices run ‘weight clinics’, often free of charge, in which a registered veterinary nurse can discuss all aspects of weight loss and help to keep your pets and more importantly you, on track.
Watching overweight pets struggling to walk, run, breath and groom themselves makes for a sad sight. The truth is that overweight pets have a much shorter lifespan, so as owners we should be ensuring our pets get the happiest and healthiest lives we can give them.
Photography by Atanas Teodosiev