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Is your pet overweight?

Many of our pets are overweight or obese. It is an extremely common problem and, as with humans, can be dangerous to their health and wellbeing. Whether your pet is a cat, dog, pig, horse, guinea pig or bird, being overweight puts added stresses on your pets body, increasing the risk of diabetes, liver problems and joint pain.

1. Obesity develops when the amount of food or energy intake exceeds their energy requirements. The excess food is stored as fat. Once a pet is overweight or obese, they may remain that way even after their excessive caloric intake is stopped. The most common cause of obesity in our animals is a simple combination of overfeeding coupled and lack of exercise.

2. Certain groups of pets are more prone to obesity than others, for example Labradors and pugs. Obesity is also common with older pets.

3. Cats are less prone to developing obesity than dogs, but it is still a problem. Research suggests that cats have a much better ability to regulate their own food or energy intake.

4. How do you know if your pet is overweight or obese? For most domestic pets vets use a body condition score to determine if there is a weight problem. With most domestic pets you should be able to feel the backbone and palpate the ribs in an animal of healthy weight. If you cannot feel your pet's backbone or ribs without pressing, it is a good indication that they are carrying too much fat.

5. As in humans you should also be able to see a noticeable "waist". To check if you pet has a visible waist, you should be able to feel the last 3 and see the hips when looking at your pet from above. Viewed from the side, there should be a "tuck" in the tummy-the abdomen should go up from the bottom of the rib cage to inside of the thighs. Cats or dogs and other pets who fail these simple tests may be overweight.

6. If you are concerned about your pet, check with you vet. Your vet may also run some simple blood test to check for problems that are commonly caused by obesity.

7. You may think that you are feeding your pet, particularly your cat or dog correctly but there are additional factors that you need to consider. Is your cat r dog being feed by any of your neighbours? Is your cat a hunter?

8. Correct Diet
Like humans, you should seek help from a qualified health professional before starting your pet on a diet or weigh loss programme.  You need to work with your vet to determine your pet's caloric requirements, select a suitable food and calculate how much to feed them. Just like a human diet it should be a balance intake of fiber, protein, vitamins, beneficial fats and carbohydrate. Choosing the wrong food or amount of food can result in skin and coat deterioration. Diets high in fiber can lead to increased stool volumes, frequent urges to defecate and a decrease in your pet's ability to digest its foods nutrients.

9. Exercise
We all know the benefits of increasing our own levels of exercise. Increasing you pets physical activity can be a valuable tool in promoting weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Regular exercise burns calories, reduces appetite, changes body composition and will increase your pet's resting metabolic rate.

10. Owner Behavior Modification
As your pet's guardian you also need to examine your own behavior and relationship with your pet. Are you giving them too many treats? Do you provide the right environment for exercise and stimulation?
Any weight management program requires permanent changes in the behaviors if it is to be successful - long term.  You need to acknowledge that your pet has not become overweight by themselves - that your actions have contributed to the problem.

11. In order to succeed in your own or your pets weight loss programme you need to be committed to making changes. Some of the changes that you may need to make are:

  •  Removing your pet from the room when you and or your family are eating a meal
  •  Change the way you feed your pet. This could be either restricting your pet's access to food or providing small meals more often.
  •  Feed all meals in the pet's bowl only
  •  Use treats as a reward only when training
  •  Provide attention and affection that is not food or treat related.

What are the health risks for overweight pets?

No matter what they type of animal, there are risks that are associated with and or caused by being overweight.

  • Arthritis and joint problems
  • Slipped discs and torn or rupture ligaments
  • Risks with surgery and anaesthetics
  • Heat intolerance
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes mellitus