Combatting pet obesity

Obesity is a growing issue globally, as the maintaining of a healthy lifestyle seems to come second to the need for convenience. But this issue is not unique to us as humans, as it is becoming more prevalent in our pets’ lives too.

Moneybags journalist, Danielle Van Wyk, explores the mounting issue of pet obesity.

“Research found that nine out of ten owners mistakenly thought their pet was the correct weight. Because weight gain is generally a gradual change people get ‘used to’ the way their pet looks, even as the pet is becoming significantly overweight, fat has become the new normal,” said Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

The tell signs of pet obesity

According to Hills, owners need to watch their pets closely for the following:

  • Look at your pet – if they are significantly overweight it should be obvious, although long-haired pets may ‘hide’ fat better.
  • The rib test – In a healthy pet upon stroking your pet’s side, you should be able to easily feel their ribs underneath their skin.
  • The waist view – when you look at your dog from above, what you should see a distinctive waist in front of his hips.
  • Side view – look for a scooped abdominal tuck up towards the hind legs. Usually overweight pets have a tendency towards a flat to bulging tummy profile.
  • Neck and tail base – look for fatty deposits around the tail base and neck.
  • Overweight pets are more predisposed to shortness of breath, overheating and stiffness.

Possible reasons for weight gain

“Pets (and people) gain weight when energy in is more than energy used, leading to stored fat. There may be decreased opportunities to use energy in exercise and play due to various reasons – smaller properties, fewer areas perceived as ‘safe’ to walk dogs, restrictions on where pets are allowed, working pet parents etc.,” explained Hills.

They also went further in touching on the issue of increased food intake. “Giving love can become equated with giving food,” said Hills.

“Titbits, table scraps, over treating and over feeding,” is also a huge contributing factor explained veterinary nursing sister, Claire Havenga.

Dangers of pet obesity

Like with human obesity, obese pets are more prone to contracting things like “breathing problems, joint pain, heart disease and diabetes. They are then also higher anaesthetic risks making even routine procedures a greater risk,” highlighted Havenga.

Other health implications according to Hills, include: “shortened lifespan as well as a variety of diseases including: insulin resistance/ diabetes, osteoarthritis, dermatopathy (skin disease), lower urinary tract disease, kidney problems and pancreatitis. In cats, it is estimated that nearly one third of cases of diabetes mellitus and lameness could be eliminated if cats achieved ideal body condition.”

In addition studies show that an obese animal’s lifespan is shortened by 2.5 years on average.

Costs involved

Because of these diseases and ailments that these animals develop, owners are then left to foot expensive bills run up by numerous vet visits and potential treatments and operations.

“These costs vary depending on which of the above problems their animal develops.  Treatment can become quite expensive,” added Havenga.

The dos and don’ts of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your pet

According to Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, there are a number of dos and don’ts when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your pet.

Do –

  • Weigh your pet regularly and ask a vet for their professional opinion on the findings, “Most vets make their scales available to clients free of charge and would gladly offer free advice regarding weight loss and the options available to the owners. The practice staff are also highly skilled at offering advice and working with the owners towards their pet’s weight loss goals,” commented Havenga.
  • Engage in and initiate regular and consistent exercise activities.
  • Include exercise while you are feeding your pet (but don’t make the activity food focused).
  • Make sure you research and find out about your pets specific dietary requirements and cater to it appropriately.
  • Have a routine when it comes to feeding and make sure everyone in the house is aware of it.
  • Amend your pet’s diet once they are sterilized as they will no longer need as many calories.

Don’t-

  • Feed your pets human food, as it does their digestive systems immense harm, instead stick to treating them with snack and treats that are appropriate to their diet.
  • Overfeed your pet, animals sometimes don’t know when to stop, so you must stay in control and ration them.
  • Ignore if your pet is obese as it can lead to many complications down the line.

A fat pet is an unhappy pet, so as owners the onus is on us to curb our pets in maintaining a discomfort free and full life for our furry friends.