Obesity – prevention not cure!

30th June 2021

By Ashleigh Pedder (Bsc Animal Science) and Lana Charge (Msc Veterinary Physiotherapy, CCBW, Canine Hydrotherapist)

The most recent data states that 51% of dogs and 44% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese. Many owners do not recognise that their pet is overweight – and this can have very negative consequences.

A large, lifetime study revealed that overweight dogs have a reduced life expectancy of up to two and a half years compared to those of ideal bodyweight. This is a scary statistic.

But, why?

Being overweight significantly increases the risk of:

  • Joint disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Diabetes
  • Tumours and cancer
  • Skin disease
  • Urinary disease
  • Cardiac disease
  • And more …

Not only this but overweight patients are at greater risk of anaesthetic and surgical complications – something we see first hand.

So, what can be done?

We believe that prevention is better than cure. By maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy diet you can help to protect your pet from weight gain and related diseases. However it is better to start late than never so they will still benefit from a change of lifestyle.

Diet

Pet food – not human food! We promise that they won’t love you less if you don’t share your biscuits with them! It’s important to know that because pets are smaller than us they need to eat less calories a day – thus a small biscuit to your dog is the equivalent to a whole burger for us and even more for cats. It’s easy to see how feeding lots of small human titbits can add up and cause significant weight gain in your pets.

Manufactured pet foods with nutritional research behind them are made to include all the components your pet needs for a healthy balanced lifestyle. Be warned that homemade meals (such as chicken, rice and vegetables) are not recommended as you cannot be sure you are providing all the nutrients your pet needs at their life stage.

Portion size

You’ve got the right food for your pet, now you need to make sure you are feeding them the right amount. You can follow the guidelines on the back of the food, or get a tailored plan from our veterinary nursing team. It’s really important to feed to your pet’s ideal bodyweight for their size rather than for their current bodyweight. Again if you are unsure we are always here to help.

Monitor their weight and body condition score

Weight clinics at your veterinary practice are an essential tool to monitoring your pet’s weight and body condition score (similar to BMI in human medicine). This will allow you to keep track and ensure your pet is not gaining or losing too much weight, as well as making sure you are feeding the right amount. You should be able to feel the ribs and see their belly “tuck up” towards the hind limbs.

 

In the dog on the left you can see the tucking up of the belly and narrowing at the waist. The dog on the right does not show this.

Activity

This will be individual to your dog; their age, breed and health will all effect how much exercise they should be doing. However, daily movement is beneficial for all dogs of all ages. Whether it be walks by the beach or taking part in a sport such as obedience or agility, find the activity that both you and your dog enjoy.

Though most cats lead a very active lifestyle outside the house, you can still encourage movement using toys and some cats can even be taught tricks and games (using toys as a reward rather than treats of course!). This is especially important for house cats.

It may be beneficial for your pets to start some home exercises in the garden to improve fitness, strength and cardiovascular health. We are happy to create a tailored exercise plan for your dog or cat as part of our physiotherapy service. There is a range of exercises suitable for cats too so don’t count them out!

Mental stimulation

Don’t forget that using the brain also burns calories. Mental stimulation games such as puzzle feeders or hiding a toy and asking them to search for it are fun for all pets but particularly for older less active dogs.

Remember, prevention is better than cure, so even if you don’t think your pet’s weight is a problem; it’s a good idea to get their weight checked and maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of obesity and associated disease.