Obesity has hit animals too
There is no doubt about it, our pets are increasing in weight.
Around 60 per cent of dogs and 55 per cent of cats are classified as overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s annual survey. There are many reasons for this however, and all of them more complex than you would first assume.
The changing demographic of our pet breeds has certainly played a role. The popularity of short-faced breeds, such as pugs and French/English bulldogs, has increased dramatically over the last few years. These dogs suffer more with obesity than their longer-faced cousins – Dobermans and Vizlas.
The explosion in pet food production and slick marketing ploys have also played a powerful role. Pet owners and veterinary professionals continue to be divided on many popular pet food trends. Pet owners are inundated by confusing and conflicting nutritional information from a wide variety of sources, meaning veterinary professionals often must dispel pet nutrition myths and decipher advertising to help pet owners choose the best diet. Treats high in salt and fat may be very palatable but are also very unhealthy for your pet.
It is more essential than ever that vets stay fully abreast of dietary changes so we can properly and scientifically assist our clients to navigate the pet food world successfully with an aim to preventing obesity before it starts.
Another common myth is that neutering your pet causes weight gain. The act of neutering your dog does not inherently cause obesity. What it does is lower the animal’s metabolic rate by around 25 per cent, meaning you can feed your pet a quarter less food than before the surgery to maintain the same weight. This is not only good for your pet but also good for your budget. In many cases, owners continue to feed the same amount of food after surgery, and so their pet naturally gains weight.
So what can be done about this growing epidemic?
The goal of treatment is to reduce calorie intake whilst increasing calorie burn, but not to limit the animal’s nutritional content. Just "feeding less" can potentially lead to a malnourished pet and can damage their health status. Therapeutic diets allow for safe weight loss without losing those key nutrients.
It is also important to give your pet a feeling of being full without loading the calories. Treatment goals are aimed at an achievable steady rate of weight loss whilst maintaining a healthy animal.
In most cases I like to work with a twelve-week plan of initial weight loss, using an appropriate therapeutic diet and focusing on both the pet and the owner’s quality of life and activity level. At the end of the initial period I review the weight changes and restructure as needed. I find that achievable targets are the key to success, and I always utilise our community nurse for regular weight checks and useful tips and support.
When it comes to animal obesity, prevention is better than cure. Early intervention with young puppies and kittens by getting them onto healthy weight goals can be pivotal for owners and animals alike. The correct life stage diet supports growth, immunity and vigour. But an inappropriate diet in this critical early stage can lead to many issues later in life, not least of which is obesity.
Always consult your vet for the most up-to-date information on nutrition for your pet. Obtain regular weight checks and prevent animal obesity before it starts.
Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda