There’s nothing more pet owners love to do than spoil their pets. This often comes in the form of extra treats. Unfortunately, this is about as far from loving behaviour as you can get. Gavin Miller, Managing Director at Marltons, weighs in on the pet obesity epidemic that is growing worldwide and shares some insight into how to tell if your pet is overweight and what can be done about it.
As Covid-related anxiety skyrocketed for the past two years, more and more of us turned to our pets for support. Our animals became like our therapists and as they showered us with unconditional love, we became more attuned to their psychological needs. But it turns out we may have tuned in a little too much, specifically when it came to snacking.
According to a survey done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, vets estimate that as many as 59% of all pets are obese. These numbers are alarming, but many owners are not taking action because overweight pets are simply becoming much more common. But obesity, in fact, is the number one health threat pets face because it affects nearly every biological system in their bodies.
So, how can you tell if you have a podgy pooch, or if it’s simply due to a thick coat. A good way to check is to run your fingers down their side and if you can’t easily feel their ribs, they are probably carrying a bit too much weight. You can also tell just by watching their behaviour. If they sit down at every opportunity or are walking differently, they could be suffering. They may also be gassy or constipated. If you notice any of these symptoms, it may be time to book a vet visit because even as little as 20% extra body weight can increase their health risks substantially.
A professional assessment is best if you’re worried because obesity can lead to diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney failure, cancer and other conditions. Obesity in your pet can also cause chronic inflammation throughout the animal's body, and it can significantly shorten the animal’s life span (by up to 2,5 years). The good news is that if you catch the problem early enough your vet can help you design a weight loss and/or weight maintenance diet that is right for your pet, and with a few small dietary changes you can get them back on the road to furry fitness.
Remember that ideal weight is relative, depending on the animal’s breed, age, body type, and metabolism. In dogs especially, some breeds seem more inclined toward obesity than others such as Labradors, Daschunds and Beagles. The real expert on the ideal weight for your animal is your vet, who will mark changes over time in a way that you—who sees your animal every day—may not.
It is not easy to help a pet lose weight, but luckily they can’t simply turn to the fridge when they feel like a snack like we do. The same principles that help us lose weight will help them. Get specific on how much you’re feeding them and stick to that. Find other ways to spoil your fur family and give them fewer treats and fewer table scraps. Also, starting a proper exercise routine will really help. The most obvious, and important, activity for dogs is walking. Regular walks don’t just exercise your dog’s body, they provide crucial mental stimulation and that all-important opportunity to sniff. The amount of walking your dog needs, or wants, depends on their breed and general health. It’s tougher when it comes to cats, but luckily they’re naturally playful so you can increase their exercise by setting aside 20-30 minutes a day to play with them.
For that added motivation to help your pet lose weight, consider the benefits. The decreased risk of health issues means decreased vets bills. They also will have much lower risk of arthritis and they will have increased energy. But most important of all, losing weight can increase their lifespan, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t want as much time as possible to live their best life with their best friend?