Obesity is a top concern for many veterinary professionals and is becoming more common in companion animals. A report by the PDSA in 2020 suggested that nearly 80% of small animal vets reported a rise in the number of obese patients seen in their practices, now as many as 1 in 3 pets in the UK are overweight. As an owner, it is important to be able to recognise when our pets aren’t at the healthiest weight they can be, and how to help.
The importance of weight management
Just like leading a balanced lifestyle is important for us humans, it is just as important for our furry friends in order to help them to be healthy and happy. Being overweight can impact their general quality of life. They may have difficulty moving around, jumping and even grooming, all which will ultimately affect their mental wellbeing.
Sadly, it can also increase their risk of developing certain health conditions:
Brachycephalic breeds (e.g., French Bulldogs and pugs)
Unfortunately, many of these dogs suffer with something called ‘Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome’ (BOAS), meaning that due to conformational issues, their airway can become partially obstructed. This then impacts on their ability to breathe. Obesity can exacerbate this condition, making breathing even more difficult for these animals.
This breed, and others such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, are notorious for developing arthritis. This is a painful condition affecting an animal’s joints. Numerous studies have highlighted that maintaining a healthy weight can slow the progression of this disease. Weight loss can help relieve pain in some animals who already have the condition.
A disease commonly associated with obesity in cats is diabetes mellitus (specifically what is in humans termed ‘type 2 diabetes’). This is where the body becomes unable to respond to the hormone insulin, which can lead to high blood sugar levels. There is plenty of evidence linking obesity with the development of this disease in cats, and even of some animals going into remission once they’ve lost weight.
The PDSA Animal Welfare report shows some correlation between the pandemic and an increase in weight gain, with owners spending more time at home and feeding their pets more often. If this sounds familiar, it is worth considering reducing the amount of treats your pet receives, or swapping these out for healthier alternatives, like vegetables, or specifically marketed low-calorie treats. For rabbits, reduce the amount of sugar-rich fruit they’re allowed, feed an appropriate amount of pellets, and ensure their diet is at least 80% hay.
Most commercial pet foods will provide a guide to how much you should be feeding depending on your pet’s weight, so take note of this and measure out the exact amount of food you should be giving. You may consider giving your pets smaller portions to reduce their overall calorie intake. To distract your pet from this reduction, you could use a puzzle feeder to stimulate your pet’s brain while they work for their dinner. Some food manufacturers also offer prescription diets to help promote weight loss, often containing extra fibre to help your pet feel fuller for longer.
Lack of exercise certainly contributes to obesity in pets. Encouraging movement is important not only for mental stimulation but will also help to use up the calories consumed that day, ultimately helping to manage weight gain.
For dogs, consider increasing length and frequency of walks, as well as playing with them at home and in the garden.
Cats should also be encouraged to play in order to increase their movement. If they are not able to go outside to exercise, encourage movement by providing toys, and places to climb.
Plenty of space to scamper about should be provided, be that in an indoor or outdoor pen.
It is important to introduce any changes to exercise levels gradually, to allow your pet to adjust to them.
Remember to tailor your pet’s exercise to their individual needs. For senior patients, or those with joint disease, high-intensity exercise is often unsuitable. Instead, consider shorter, but more frequent walks, and focus on their dietary requirements. Remember too that exercise alone rarely helps pets lose weight – but it can be a valuable addition to a weight-loss plan!
How we can help
It can be difficult to recognise and accept when our pets are overweight, and even harder to know how to approach it. We are here to help recognise when there is a concern and guide you through tackling it.
There can sometimes be medical reasons for our pets gaining weight, which should be further investigated if appropriate.
If you’re concerned about your pet’s weight, you can book in for a consultation with one of our friendly nurses, who can determine whether your pet is overweight and give further advice.