The weighty problem of pet obesity is top of mind for most owners. I have this conversation frequently with clients, and it’s rarely because their pet is looking lean… Like humans, our pets are often battling with the bulge.
Why has this happened? There are lots of hypotheses, and the likelihood is a combination of all of them got our animal companions to the point they’re at today.
Our pets move less than their ancestors. A cat or dog in the wild spends a great amount of energy each day just accessing a meal. In our home environments, it’s more likely that energy expenditure associated with feeding is restricted to jumping on the bed to bat you on the face until you wake up and fill the bowl. And as our living becomes more condensed, animals may be residing in increasingly confined spaces with limited access to the outdoors. While for dogs this may mean an increase in daily walks compared to their counterparts with backyards, cats are likely to be more sedentary.
For many of us, food is an important way of bonding with our pets. For people with restricted physical movement, interacting with treats may feel like one of the only ways love and affection can be expressed. But it’s crucial that this is taken into consideration when you’re working out how much food they need at mealtimes.
Just as with us humans, there are negative health implications associated with pet obesity. In cats and dogs, links to osteoarthritis, diabetes and skin issues have all been reported. Overweight animals struggle more with heat intolerance – a particular concern for short-faced (brachycephalic) dogs who are already at risk of this. If your pet requires an anaesthetic or surgery, obesity can increase the risk of complications. Most disturbingly, obesity has been associated with a decreased life expectancy in dogs.
So what to do? Losing weight yourself is hard. Helping your pet to lose weight is even harder – the pull of those melting eyes gazing longingly at you is almost impossible to resist. Which is precisely why I suggest getting yourself a support crew.
They’ll make sure there are no underlying health issues and show you how to assess your pet’s body condition at home. They’ll encourage you to drop by for weigh-ins and celebrate the wins with you. They can even help tailor a diet plan that ensures your pet still meets all of his or her nutrient requirements, while absorbing less energy.
You can get creative at home too! Increasing activity in healthy pets will subsequently increase their energy expenditure. Making a cat’s environment interesting will encourage exploration and movement – think cat posts, tunnels and toys you can get them to chase. I also love the idea of making meal times more of an experience with food puzzles and games that require a bit of work to get the reward. And maybe those puppy dog eyes can be rewarded with a grooming session or ear scratch, rather than a treat.
by Simone Maher, the Baxta Vet