Our pets are considered a valued and an important member of the family – we couldn’t imagine life without them. We adore our pets, and what’s a better way to show them our love and affection by handing them the occasional treat now and again.
How common is pet obesity?
Unfortunately, overweight pets are still a growing concern for vets across the UK. Around 40 per cent of dogs and cats are estimated to be overweight or obese, often classed as malnutrition, with overconsumption of calories the biggest cause.
Factors such as these and an inactive lifestyle, alongside an unbalanced diet, can all contribute to pet obesity. In fact, the 2018 PAW report found that at least 1.4 million dogs are walked less than once a day.
As humans, we can appreciate how in no time we soon pile on the pounds, especially when we have a change in activity (at Christmas, for example). In the new year we tend to change our focus to eating more healthily and exercising more; however, once January has passed, our waistlines fluctuate again.
It’s the same for our pets: the more we feed them, the quicker their waistlines will increase, and while a mere morsel here or there won’t harm them, over time an increase in calories can soon add up. What we have in common with our treasured pets is that we both require regular exercise and a balanced diet across our entire lifespan. By doing so, this will ensure pets can maintain a healthy, and active life while avoiding gaining weight, which as pet owners, it is our responsibility help pets achieve this.
At Animal Trust, we are devoted to helping sick pets access quality care exactly when they need help. As part of our mission to assist animals, we are encouraging all pet owners to become treatwise in 2019 and to work with us to ensure our pets are as healthy as possible, starting with their waistlines.
To help you feel more informed about pet obesity, we have created a helpful guide which details:
- The signs of pet obesity in dogs and cats
- The effects of pet obesity
- Dog breeds prone to pet obesity
- Cat breeds prone to pet obesity
- How to prevent pet obesity
What are the signs of obesity in dogs?
Signs of obesity in dogs can be tricky to identify depending on your dog’s breed; some may naturally be fluffier than others, however, all dogs have an optimal weight for their height, size and age, which a vet measures against the body condition score.
If you’re uncertain whether your dog is obese, follow these steps at home. With your dog standing on all fours:
- Run your hand along their side and feel for the rib cage
- When checking your dog’s weight, you should be able to feel their ribs without applying too much pressure
- Often, an overweight dog will have a thicker layer of skin/fur, which can make it difficult to see/feel their ribs, spine or waistline
- If looked at from the side, an overweight pet’s tummy will hang
- It is often found with weight gain, excess skin forms around the pet’s face
What are the signs of obesity in cats?
Our fluffy friends can also gain weight if we feed them too many treats. If your cat is over 20 per cent heavier than their optimised weight, they may be diagnosed as obese, and an overweight cat is 10 to 19 per cent heavier than the optimal weight.
If you think your cat has gained weight, follow these steps to check for the signs. With your cat standing on all fours:
- Run your hands along their side to feel for the rib cage
- At an ideal weight, you should be able to feel a cat’s ribs, but not see them
- Their abdomen should tuck in, with minimal body fat around their waistline
- If your cat has excess weight, their tummy will hang
- An overweight cat will look larger around their abdomen, with an undefined waistline between their ribs and hips
Overweight pets may also behave differently to a pet at a healthy weight. Your cat or dog may seem reluctant to go out, be walked, run, and find it difficult to climb stairs, so they might need some positive encouragement from us to get moving and to lose a few pounds.
The effects of pet obesity
The effects of pet obesity are detrimental to your pet’s quality of life, as an increase in weight can affect their general body functions. Similarly to humans, more immediate effects of pet obesity can include our animals developing diabetes, skin diseases, heart disease, and arthritis due to the strain extra weight has on a pet’s joints.
Dog breeds prone to gaining weight
- Labrador. Although a very active dog, Labradors are prone to weight gain. They have a healthy appetite and can eat quickly, which affects their hunger cravings. You might find that Labs find it hard to switch off if around food. Labradors also have a thick layer of fat under their skin to help insulate them in cold water, which increases their fat mass compared to other dogs.
- Daschunds. Dachshunds have short, little legs, which can make it more difficult for them to walk for long periods of time. If a Dachshund is overweight, in particular, a larger frame can affect their spine, as an increase in size can add pressure to their skeleton.
- Basset Hounds. Basset Hounds are quite solid, short dogs with little legs. Similarly to a Dachshund, even just a small amount of weight gain can put extra stress on a Basset Hound’s skeletal structure.
- Pugs. Pugs have a short face which can cause difficulty breathing, and also affect their tolerance for strenuous physical exercise. As a result, pugs are often not as active as required; traditionally bred as lap dogs, they have a tendency to gain weight.
- Rottweilers. Rottweilers are naturally quite sedentary dogs. Raised as guard dogs, their broad demeanour and physique can make them quite slow paced; however, Rottweilers should be fairly muscular and actually love being active.
Older dogs are also prone to gaining weight, as they become less mobile with age, whereas older or geriatric cats tend to lose weight as they can lose their appetite. Depending on your pet’s activity, it’s important to modify your pet’s diet in relation to how much they move and play. As a pet parent, it is your responsibility to help them achieve the ideal body weight without intaking too many calories.
Cat breeds prone to gaining weight
A cat’s behaviour, size and shape can contribute to them being more prone to gaining weight, these breeds include some the UK’s favourite:
- British Shorthair. A UK favourite, British Shorthairs are prone to gaining weight. Their build compromises of a strong, muscular structure and muscle mass, which is why it is important to ensure they aren’t overfed so that their muscle is built from protein rather than fat.
- Russian Blue. These breed of cats have a hearty appetite, which if they don’t fulfil an active lifestyle they can gain weight from overeating.
- Main Coon. Naturally large in size, Main Coons, although fluffy, can be prone to gaining weight. It’s important to check them regularly as it can be misleading, as their coat can conceal whether they are carrying a few extra pounds.
- Persians. The Persian cat prefers to stay indoors which can lead to a reduction in activity. Persians pick up food from the underside of their tongue and require a specific diet to help them chew food properly.
- Ragdoll. Affectionate and friendly cats, Ragdoll’s are large in size which means they require a balanced diet and plenty of exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
How to Prevent Pet Obesity
If you think your dog or cat is overweight, here are our nine top weight management techniques you can incorporate to improve their waistline:
- Consider what you feed them. Is their diet high in protein and low in fat, as to feeding them too many carbohydrates?
- How often do you feed them? A pet’s meal size will vary based on their age and size, so it’s best to check that you’re not feeding them too often. A portion size too large (or even too small) can create health problems caused by weight gain (or loss).
- Meal plan. Set a feeding routine so your pet knows when to expect a meal.
- Be treatwise. How many snacks do they intake daily? Your pet’s diet should be made up of just 10% of treats, which includes feeding them scraps, or any food in addition to their daily meal.
- Provide pet-friendly food. Feed only dog or cat-friendly treats and adjust your pet’s calorie intake for the day if they consume more treats than usual.
- Quality over quantity. Treats quickly add up and can be one of the biggest causes of pet obesity, in addition to living a sedentary lifestyle.
- Slow/puzzle feeder pet bowls. If your pet loves food, they may wolf their food down too quickly as they enjoy their meal. This can often result in them not actually tasting their food, gagging, vomiting and choking. Dogs, in particular, can eat too much too quickly, causing bloat, or gastric dilatation, which can cause them to collapse. If you notice your dog is excessively breathing, drooling and vomiting, contact your vet straight away.
- Encourage daily exercise. Always provide your pet with regular exercise, whether this involves walking, running, swimming or playing with your cat in the home; or using toys and climbing towers to encourage your cat to move.
- Hydrotherapy. Alternative therapies like hydrotherapy is an effective way to help your pet exercise without putting a strain on their body since the water supports their skeleton.
How to be treatwise for your pet
The key is to start small
Incorporating a few of the changes discussed will soon help your pet lose weight healthily and over time, their lifestyle will improve. These changes won’t happen overnight but with the right commitment from pet owners, our animals will soon reap the health benefits.
Pets will adapt better if you slowly start to introduce these techniques in their life so it’s not a huge shock to the system. This works particularly well with diet change if you are trying a new type of dog or cat food. Mix the new food with the old and slowly reduce feeding the original food brand over time.
If you’re ever in doubt on how to safely make changes to your pet’s diet, please do not hesitate to book a free consultation for advice with a veterinary professional at Animal Trust.