In the U.S. and Europe, there are statistically nearly as many obese pets as obese humans. As obesity is a very serious condition which can cause many other health problems, you should keep an eye on Fido if he starts getting a bit plump!
Veterinarians too are seeing more and more pets whose weight has more to do with an unhealthy diet than how fluffy they are. According to a survey conducted in 2014 by the UK pet food organization PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers Association), 45% of dogs and 40% of cats can be classed as ‘obese’.
What is Obesity?
The World Health Organization defines overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health”. There can be many different reasons for why a person or animal can become overweight, not all of them to do with diet.
For example, genetics can affect weight (some breeds of cats and dogs are more likely to be overweight than others), as well as hormonal changes. While these can only be controlled to a degree, it’s no secret that many families like to spoil their furry friends with frequent treats. Although you might think that snacks are completely harmless, as we know well, too much of a good thing can be damaging.
If your pet is overweight, they are more at risk of illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, joint problems and liver disease.
Obesity in dogs
Dogs are often described as being able to eat anything, as well as being expert beggars. One flash of puppy-dog eyes at dinner time can lead to endless scraps of just about anything being passed to a canine companion. However, this is often how dogs become overweight – too many treats and not enough exercise.
The likelihood of obesity increases with age, with 70% of overweight dogs being over nine years old. Female dogs are also more at risk than males, but both sexes face an increased risk after being spayed and neutered.
Obesity in cats
Cats are more vulnerable to gaining weight as they hit middle age, in particular between 5 and 11 years old, as they get older and stop being able to exercise as much. Again, because of the hormonal changes that take place after being sterilized, cats are also more likely to gain weight after being desexed, but indoor cats are also more at risk since they can’t exercise as much as outdoor cats.
What should I do about it?
If you are not sure whether your pet is just a bit plump or unhealthily overweight, you should consult a veterinarian.
Ideally, animals should have a body fat content of around 20%. Being able to feel the chest, the hips, the spine and the shoulder blades of your pet without pressing on them too much to do so can give you some indication of whether they are too overweight, but this can vary from breed to breed.
It also goes without saying that the risk of weight gain is far less than the risks associated with not spaying or neutering your pet. As long as you give your four-legged friend a healthy lifestyle, they will not be in danger of becoming obese.
Weight problems require attention and a regime of treatment. As soon as you spot signs of unhealthy weight gain, take your pet to a veterinarian to get an idea of what you need to do to help them. The only way to deal with weight gain is a change in diet and exercise, so your vet will be able to help pinpoint any problems in your pet’s lifestyle and suggest the best way to get them back to a healthy weight.
The most important rules for a successful diet are:
- Weigh out each meal carefully on a kitchen scale so you know that your pet is getting the nutrition they need without having too much
- Record exactly what your pet eats every day
- Keep the meals to a schedule. Depending on species and breed, your pet should be having 2 to 4 set meals a day
- This is not the time to spoil your furry friend! Stop giving them treats and extra food, for now
Keeping up the good work
Once your pet starts to lose weight, you must stick to the new regime to avoid the well-known ‘yo-yo effect’ – losing weight, congratulating yourself and then going right back to the habits that caused the bad weight gain in the first place. The more you make sure that the new rules are respected, the less likely it is that your pet will have weight problems again.
Make sure that the diet isn’t too strict – being underweight has its own risks and health issues. The goal is to return to a normal diet step by step, to keep your cat or dog happy and healthy. You can discuss the best way to do this with your veterinarian.
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At Holidog, we aim to improve the lives of your furry friends. Enjoy your holidays with peace of mind, knowing your pet is in great hands (find a petsitter near you) and spoil them with our monthly subscription box filled with yummy treats and toys (get your free box here). You can count on us!