The latest report from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association finds that 51% of dogs, 44% of cats, and 29% of small mammals are overweight or obese and the figures have risen since their last report in 2015. The reasons for pet obesity are complex and may vary for each individual. Overfeeding is very common, despite clear feeding guidelines on packaging. TV advertising with pets tucking into big bowls of food gives an unrealistic interpretation of how much to feed. Vets advise weighing food out at each meal because when using a cup or scoop it can be easy to overdo the portion size. In other pets it is a lack of exercise that causes them to put on weight. Cats are increasingly kept indoors to protect them from road accidents and to reduce predation on wildlife, but this can mean they lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Our busy lifestyles can also lead to guilt over not spending enough time with our pets, and there can be a tendency to make up for this with food treats. Most dog owners don’t realise just how efficient their dogs are on the move, and that they use only 5-10% of their daily calories in exercising. Many will give more food if their dog has had a longer walk, but the amount fed only needs to rise by 5% if the length of the walk is doubled!
Obesity can increase the risk of orthopaedic diseases, including hip dysplasia and cruciate disease, as well as some cancers, and increases the breathing problems of brachycephalic dogs. High fat diets and inappropriate treats can cause digestive upsets including pancreatitis. In cats, obesity is associated with urinary tract disease and diabetes as well as grooming and mobility problems.
Weight creeps on slowly and owners might not realise that their pet has become overweight. As well as visiting a vet or pet shop to use the scales it is useful to learn to assess a pet’s body condition score. When at their ideal weight and body condition your dog or cat should have ribs that can be easily felt, a waist, and a tuck to the abdomen. Fluffy pets can be harder to assess without getting your hands on them!
Overweight and obese animals should visit a vet for a full health check before reducing their meals or increasing their exercise. The vet may suggest blood tests to rule out any underlying diseases such as hypothyroidism (dogs) and diabetes (cats). If mobility is poor then pain relief may be required, otherwise pets can get stuck in a vicious cycle of being reluctant to move due to pain, then putting on more weight, which makes moving more painful and difficult. Any exercise programme should start slowly and can include play and active feeding methods to make mealtimes more satisfying, even when there is less food. Another good way to reduce the calories you pet takes in is to swap food treats for other ‘treats’; these could include playing with your pet, grooming, or using treats to reward for working on a trick instead of just for free.