Whilst more Australians are becoming overweight or obese, this major public health issue is also becoming a concern for our pets, with over 30% of pets in Australia being considered overweight or obese.
Overweight pets are unhealthy pets at higher risk of many diseases: joint disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and pancreatitis, just to name a few. This not only drastically reduces the pet’s quality of life, but can also be costly to treat and maintain. Being overweight complicates nearly every other health problem and many owners don’t realise this.
Just like us, pets gain excessive weight if there is an imbalance in calorie input and output. So why does it exist so much these days?
Why our pets are becoming overweight
Pets, particularly our dogs and cats, are increasingly being kept indoors. While this is good for other reasons (especially for cats) it does have the effect of reducing daily incidental exercise If we are not careful.
For dogs, our lives are increasingly busier with longer working hours and other responsibilities taking priority over walking the dog. Dogs need daily exercise, but sadly there are many that are not getting the right amounts of exercise to keep them both mentally and physically stimulated at the appropriate levels.
Many dogs are also being fed far too much of the wrong food types in the form of tidbits and snacks – pleading eyes at the dinner table are hard to ignore and it’s difficult to stop your toddler from littering the floor under their high chair with tasty morsels!
Tidbits add up through out the day and, what that may seem like a snack to us, could actually be the equivalent of a whole meal for your pet.
One little cookie for a dog for example is the equivalent of a human having an entire hamburger! And, for a cat, one small piece of cheddar cheese is the equivalent of two and half hamburgers, whilst one cup of whole milk is the equivalent of three hamburgers for a human.
Taking all of this into account, it’s not hard to see why obesity has become a health epidemic for our pets.
Is your pet overweight?
Your vet is the best person to assess your pet’s weight. There is large natural variation amongst different breeds of dogs and cats so we use a body condition score as well as actual body weight to assess them.
A body condition score of 5/9 is ideal and means your dog or cat should have a visible waist, palpable ribs and minimal abdominal fat.
Pets with body condition scores of 7-9 are overweight or obese and require serious attention.
Slow and steady weight loss
If your dog is determined as being overweight or obese, your vet will carefully work out a weight loss plan.
They may use a specialised computer program to determine the exact number of daily calories your pet should be having based on their body condition score and desired end goal weight.
Most vet clinics are happy to help you monitor your pets weight with weekly weigh-ins and nurse follows ups.
It’s very important that the weight loss is controlled and slow as rapid changes can cause more harm than good.
Prevention is much better than cure of course so, to keep your pet healthy and happy, speak to your vet.
Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.