We are constantly being told that obesity levels are increasing worldwide and that we should act now in order to ensure our long term health. However, this problem doesn't just affect humans. A shocking statistic from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that an estimated 54% of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese.
(Source: Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 2015)
Just like humans, pets who are overweight are at increased risk for a number of health problems including but not limited to:
Cranial cruciate ligament injury
Decreased life expectancy by up to 2.5 years
Heart and respiratory disease
High blood pressure
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Varying forms of cancer
There are several methods that you can use to determine if your pet may be overweight or obese. These methods are simple physical checks that you can do in your own home.
Dogs and cats should be hourglass shaped with a clear taper at their waist. Overweight animals do not have this taper and therefore appear more oval or egg-shaped.
In a pet of a healthy weight, you should be able to feel, but not see, their ribs, as visible ribs are indicative of an underweight animal. If you place your hands on either side of your pet's chest and cannot feel their ribs, then they are very likely to be overweight.
Animals do not usually reach major levels of obesity until they are at least 7 years old, but when they do, they tend to have large amounts of fat on the hips and neck as well as a very large, round abdomen.
Veterinarians are also able to determine your pet's Body Fat Index by taking several different measurements, and then will be able to advise you if it is within healthy parameters.
If you are at all concerned about the weight of your pet, please contact your veterinarian to make an appointment to determine if your pet would benefit from a specifically tailored weight loss program.
Just like their human friends, the key to combating obesity in pets is to decrease the number of calories being eaten and increase the amount of exercise taken. Many guidelines suggest to reduce your pet's food by 25%, however, we recommend that you speak to your veterinarian who will consider your pets breed, age and general health before recommending drastic changes to their diet or lifestyle.
Your veterinarian will undertake regular monitoring of your pet during any tailored weight loss program to ensure that weight loss is steady and achieved healthily. They will also advise changes to the program if any aspects are not working as they should. Activity levels can also be monitored and increased in line with your pet's weight loss and improving fitness.
Avoid giving your pet snacks from the dinner table – all those little nibbles quickly mount up to a lot of extra calories.
Limit treats to several times a week. The calories given as treats must be deducted from the total daily recommended calories your pet is given.
Follow the feeding instructions and ensure that your pet is eating the right amount of food for their current stage of life.
You may want to consider how many times per day you feed your pet. Sometimes splitting larger portions into smaller, more regular meals will help keep your pet feeling full and satisfied.
When it comes to exercising with your pet, get into a routine. Whether it’s going for walks or playing with them, try to do it at the same time every day. This way your pet knows what to expect and it quickly becomes a habit for both of you!