by Caleigh Snyman and Joané van Oudtshoorn, first published in We Love Pets SA.
When they look up at you with those big, beautiful begging eyes … Yes, we all know the ‘look’ from our fur kids when they convince us that it is all right to give them a table scrap or a daily night-time snack or just something over their food. Unfortunately, the hard reality is that eventually they will be killed by kindness, as every extra gram adds up and contributes to the epidemic affecting our pets. Carrying too much extra weight will not just reduce your pet’s lifespan — it will decrease their quality of life too.
PET OBESITY HAS SKYROCKETED IN RECENT YEARS …
… and it is getting worse quickly. Obesity occurs when excessive adipose tissue accumulates in the body and is defined when an animal’s body weight is at least 20% greater than its optimal body weight. The number of obese and overweight pets in recent years may also be due to normalization, while many people realize this, few realize the true extent of the problem. After all, we cannot hope to defeat a problem before we utterly understand it.
Recent evidence suggests that middle-aged cats and dogs, especially those between the ages of 5 and 10, may be at an increased risk of obesity. Similar studies showed that as cats age from 2 years to approximately 11.5 years of age that their energy requirements decrease. Weight gain will occur if calories from the diet do not decrease with the animal’s energy requirements, therefore the input is larger than the output. This vicious cycle leads to weight gain in pets all over the world and sadly many of these pets never loose their excess weight.
HOW WOULD YOU KNOW YOUR PET IS OBESE?
Weight alone cannot be the only indication to determine if a pet is obese or not, because there are so many variances in body shape within the same breed, as well as discrepancies as what the optimal weight should be. There are several other factors that can be used to determine the level of obesity. The body condition scoring system (visit www.purinainstitute.com), usually out of 9, is an objective measure for veterinary professionals to use during an assessment, as well as to describe to an owner in what condition the dog or cat or another pet is in.
Body condition scoring involves palpating certain body areas to feel the level of fat cover and visual checks, for instance for an ideal condition dog, when viewed from above a dip in at the waist should be present. Viewed from the side a clear abdominal tuck should be seen and when the ribs are palpated, each individual rib should easily be felt with only a very thin layer of fat cover. Another tool that professionals use is weight measurements (done with a measuring tape). It would be done around specific landmarks by the same person over a period, since the weight loss program has started. Photographs taken from different angles are also a valuable tool that can track the animals progress over time.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?
- Overfeeding (kibble, table scraps, high calorie treats)
- Lack of physical exercise
- Confined to small garden or house
- Middle aged individuals
- Metabolic and / or hormonal changes
Here are a few of the diseases and issues that have been linked to obesity in pets:
- Osteo arthritis (degenerative joint disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Respiratory disease
- Skin issues
TIPS TO DECREASE WEIGHT & MAINTAINING THE OPTIMAL WEIGHT
- Most important part of any weight loss program
- Feed a Low-calorie diet
- Feed according to their ideal or goal weight and not current weight
- It is recommended by veterinarians that treats do not exceed 10% of the diet.
- If any treats are added to your pet’s daily intake – remove the equivalent amount of food out of their meal.
- Substitute treats with healthy alternatives (carrots; liver treats or low-calorie treats) or use kibble as treats.
- Avoid feeding bread, cheese, biltong – immensely fattening.
- Important to measure out the food
- Slowly reduce amount of food
- Feed regular meals, twice or three times daily
- No free feeding
- Slow feeder bowls can be wonderful to use to reduce scoffing
- Snuffle mats are another way of slow feeding and enrichment.
Consistent exercise (walking, swimming, playing, access to outdoors) to increase their cardiovascular fitness.
- Weight loss program at a veterinary clinic or physiotherapy clinic
- Medical treatment
With all this being said, it does not mean that you can’t still spoil your beloved pet and must starve them. It just highlights the importance that moderation is key and that we as owners and animal lovers have the ability to put a stop to this growing epidemic. Thus, with managing your pet’s weight and adapting it constantly to their needs or lifestyle is a vital part of ensuring they live a long, healthy, and happy life!