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Fighting obesity in pets

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As a nation we are obsessed with watching what we eat, avoiding too much salt and sugar, and cutting carbs. But with everyone critiquing their own diet, does anyone pay attention to what we are feeding our pets?

According to the most recent PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report, over 2.6million dogs in the UK receive scraps or leftovers as their main meal.  Some may wonder what the harm in this is, but many people forget what is OK for humans to eat can often prove to be toxic for our four legged friends.

Foods you shouldn’t feed your dog or cat

Alcohol, apple seeds, avocado, bones, chocolate, coffee (caffeine), corn on the cob (whole), citrus, coconut, fat trimmings, grapes, raisins, macadamia Nuts, milk and dairy, nuts, onions, garlic, chives, salt, sweets and yeast

In addition to the health concerns, allowing your dog or cat to share your food encourages bad behaviour where they may beg or even try to take food while you’re trying to eat. We’ve all had to look at those puppy dog eyes or felt a cat’s head nudge us asking for a little bit of whatever we are eating, so what harm can a little treat do?

Well, take your average Dashchund, just 25g of cheese is the equivalent to an average human eating two large muffins. The same tidbit of cheese for a cat converts to the equivalent of three and a half hamburgers for the average person.

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

If you have any concerns about your pet’s weight, ask your vet to pop them on the scales and let you know if they are in the typical weight range for their breed.

In between visits to your vet you should monitor your pet’s body condition yourself.

You should be able to feel their ribs through a slight fat cover when you run your hand along their side. When you look at them from above you should be able to see the definition of their waist. There should not be any “padding” around the base of the tail – this would indicate they’re carrying a few extra kilos.

How does weight gain affect your pet?

So your furry friend has gained a little extra weight, all the more to cuddle, right? Sadly, weight gain in animals has a much greater effect than it does in humans. For example, a 5kg Shih Tzu gaining an additional 2kg is the equivalent of a 10 stone woman piling on an extra four stone.

Obese pets are more prone to health problems and live shorter lives and vets are reporting seeing more and more overweight animals in their surgeries. Some of the health problems that can occur as a result of being overweight are:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease or dysfunction
  • Osteoarthritis resulting in lameness
  • Lowered immune system function
  • Increased risk of developing malignant tumors (cancer)

How to maintain a healthy weight for your dog or cat

If your vet has indicated your pet’s a bit on the heavy side, it is important to follow and stick to the advice they provide about getting your beloved pet back to their healthy weight.

As with humans, the two main ways to keep in shape are through a healthy diet and exercise.

What to feed your pet

Buying a good-quality, balanced pet food is the first place to start. Think about the age of your pet as kittens and puppies will require higher protein to help their growing bones while senior cats and dogs need lower calories and higher fibre as they slow down.

Look at the label of the food you buy, more often than not it will provide guidance about how much to feed your pet based on their weight. Watch out for commercial foods which contain the following:

  • Ethoxyquin - this is used as a preservative but can cause health problems
  • Propylene Glycol - used to control bacteria and moisture in the food but can cause problems to intestines
  • BHT/BHA - preservatives which can cause damage to kidneys and have been linked with cancer
  • Corn syrup - a sugar often used to help sweeten the food. However, too much sugar over time will lead to weight gain, diabetes, hyperactivity, and even a change in mental behaviour.

How to exercise your dog

There are so many different types of breed out there so make sure you do your research to find out how much exercise to give your dog. If you are trying to help your pet lose weight then extra walkies may be needed to help shift those pounds! Make sure you don’t over-exert your pooch, just like with humans they can’t go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight. Give them time to increase fitness.

Don’t forget feline fitness. Yes, it’s rare to take your cat for a walk there are still things to be done to keep your cat fit. And it’s even more important with indoor cats; make sure you encourage playtime with dangly toys, cat-friendly laser toys or good old-fashioned running your hands under the duvet with kitty on top trying to catch them! You should try and spend 15-20 minutes a day playing with your cat, so if they are snoozing away on the window sill in the sun, wake them up to come and play to ensure a healthy heart and happy mind.

How often should I give my pet treats?

The juicy bit! We are not saying you should deny your pet their rewards and treats, but once you have decided on a safe and healthy treat to provide you need to monitor how much you give and reduce their main meal accordingly.

If your dog looks longingly at you while you are eating your breakfast but their dinner time isn’t until the evening, why not split the amount of food they have into two or three feeds so there’s less of a wait between meal times? That way you won’t feel the need to fill the gaps with treats.

If treats form part of training, consider using part of their normal meal in small portions during their training. Perhaps look at changing the rewards you provide - verbal praise and stroking is often is enough to say well done. Or why not look into clicker training!

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