It’s vet nurse Hayley here back again. This time with a blog on pet obesity. I see lots of pets each day at Fox Valley Animal Hospital, many for routine examinations such as vaccinations. It’s during these important hospital visits that we sometimes notice that your pet has gained a few kilos over the course of a year. It’s really important that we address this issue for a number of health reasons. Obesity in pets carries some serious medical problems with it, and I have unfortunately witnessed first-hand the impact on both pet and owner.
Let’s take a look at the warning signs of pet obesity, why it happens and what you can do about it.
Why is my pet gaining weight?
There are a number of reason why your pet may be gaining weight. It’s not always as obvious as he/she is eating too much. There are few medical problems that can cause obesity in pets .
The 2 most common causes of pet obesity are:
- Hypothyroidism – a disease affecting the thyroid gland
- Hyperadrenocorticism also known as ‘Cushings disease’- a disease that affects the adrenal glands
These diseases are diagnosed from a physical check up as they show certain characteristics and blood screening. One tell-tale sign with both these conditions is your pets water intake can increase, so monitoring any change in habitats can indicate that there might be a problem. These diseases are what we call diseases of the endocrine system and unfortunately they cause our pets to gain weight, regardless of how much we control their food intake. Don’t worry as scary as they sound they are manageable and can be controlled with medications, this in term will help regulate your pet’s weight.
How much food is too much food?
Too much food will cause obesity in our pets. To maintain a healthy weight your pet needs to burn the calories they eat from their food.
Food isn’t a replacement for exercise or attention. We tend to shower our pets with treats as a sign of our love and affection. However in turn this is doing them no good. It would be much more beneficial if you took them for a walk, gave them a nice brush or spent some time playing a game in the garden.
Human food is no substitute for good quality pet food, unfortunately too many owners make the mistake of giving table scraps on top of their pet’s normal ration of food. Our food can sometimes be very high in fat, not to mention other ingredients such as sodium and preservatives. And some of the foods we love are poisonous to your animal. This lovely chart puts it into perspective the damage caused by human food.
So next time you’re tempted to give Fido a slice of cheese opt for a carrot stick.
Exercise or lack of it
To maintain an optimum weight, our pets need to have a calorie intake equal to energy expenditure. This means regular exercise.
Dogs need walking every day, not just for the mental stimulation but also to keep them fit and active.
Cats tend to spend a lot of time sleeping and inactive especially during the day when owners may be out at work. Playtime should be set aside to encourage movement and exercise.
If dogs are not walked and cats left to sleep the day away we will most certainly see an increase on the scales!
Why the chubby Labrador?
It seems that certain breeds such as Labradors, Pugs, and Beagles are more prone to obesity. As fair as felines go, Burmese cats also follow in the same footsteps. This leads animal health scientists to believe that certain breeds are pre-disposed to obesity.
So if your a pet owner with one of these breeds, you’ll need to be extra careful when it comes to exercise, diet and looking for signs of weight gain.
Doubling up and neighbourhood hassling
It’s important that in a busy family household that only one person is responsible for your pet’s feeding. Too often we discover that more than one family member is feeding the family pet and his waist line is growing bigger and bigger. If your dog is anything like mine he will try his luck for an extra breakfast my giving every member of the household his soppy eyed starving look!
Cats will often go around the neighbourhood helping themselves to any food on offer. It’s important to let the neighbours know not to feed your cat otherwise your slim feline will start to double in size.
Quality of food
Quite often I hear owners tell me that they hardly feed anything to their pet. The important thing to remember is the quality of food can determine the condition of your pet. Some of the cheaper brands of food available from the supermarket are high in fat. Fat taste nice this is why it makes food highly palatable for our pets. Feeding a poor quality diet will ultimately lead to weight gain, even if the quantity seems fairly small. The worst offenders are for this are the rolls of meat you can buy in the pet food fridge department. There is nothing nice about the offal cuts used and the quality is poor. Also you will find a lot of the cheaper brands of food contain a high amount of cereals. These are cheap bulk fillers. Some of the cat foods such as Whiskers also contain high amounts of fat and can lead to an expanding waist line. The only food we advocate is the Royal Canin. It’s complete, balanced, well researched and just like us act as preventive care. Remember the old saying ‘you are what you eat’ this is the case with our pets too.
How much is too much per serve?
Feeding without a timetable or routine is not advisable. It is much better to feed your pet twice daily. Not only that feeding is an important time to maintain and positively reinforce training.
Pets that are left to graze all day may end up consuming all their food at once. Using a guideline such as that on the Royal Canin foods means you can easily measure out the quantity of food.
Eating twice daily ensures our pet’s metabolism keeps ticking along, rather than having one large meal then fasting for the next 24 hours. Prolonged periods of fasting can slow down the metabolism, leading to weight gain.
How do I know that my pet is overweight or at risk of pet obesity?
A physical examination is the best way to tell if your pet is overweight. We don’t just relay on the numbers on the scales.
Here are some useful tips you can use:
- Look for a waist line. When looking down at your pet, you should visible be able to see where the waist goes in
- Examine the rib definition. When running your hands along the ribs they should have a small amount of fat coverage. If you have to push hard to count the ribs then your pet may be overweight
- Avoid fat folds. They shouldn’t have fat deposits or large fatty fold’s in the skin (unless they are a particular breed)
- Say no to the paunch pouch. Cats with extra ‘love pouches’ underneath are usually on their way to carrying too much weight
- Listen for snoring in the snoozes. Some breeds of dog such as Bulldogs and Pugs may snore as an indication of sleep apnoea due to a fatty build up of tissue. If you are concerned, it’s best to check.
We also have available a body scoring system. This is a picture chart that allows us to rate your pet from 1-5. A score of 1 is considered underweight and 5 obese.
Why should we as owners be concerned that our pets are carrying a few extra kilos?
Obesity in pets can lead to so many medical problems, anaesthetic complications and exacerbation of arthritis.
In our next blog, we will look into the problems caused by obesity and how we can change our ways to prevent and repair the damage.
At Fox Valley Animal Hospital, we are very proactive in preventive care, being that obesity in pets is the most commonly seen nutritional disease we see in dogs.
If you’re worried your dog or cat may be a little bit cuddly or need diet advice, please call us on 9489 4805 for a friendly chat.