Believe it or not, pet obesity is becoming a real problem in the UK. Many vets are reporting that a diet of treats combined with a more sedentary lifestyle is creating a nation of fatter dogs and cats. Your vet will tell you if your pet is significantly overweight, but do ask at your regular check-ups and ensure your dog or cat is within a healthy weight range for their breed. Like humans, obesity in animals leads to a multitude of health problems which can in extreme cases, prove fatal. Skeletal problems which can already be an issue in some breeds can be exacerbated, blood pressure issues and diabetes can occur and many of the other all too human seeming ailments such as heart disease are also a risk. Not only this, but dogs are active, energetic animals, and cats are often lithe and supple, so a weight problem can have a really detrimental effect on quality of life for your pet, too. Although cats can have diet issues if they lead a particularly sedentary lifestyle, the problem is more prevalent in dogs, and needs meticulous care.
If your vet does advise that your pooch has a weight issue, then they will be able to help. Some owners simply don’t know what type and volume of food their pet requires to maintain a healthy size, so read up on the breed and aim to ensure you stick to the guidelines. Controlling portion size is the best way to make sure your pet is not seeing more than his fair share of the food! If you have more than one pet, try feeding them in different areas to make sure no one is overeating, and check that the diet you are offering is suitable for their needs.
Some breeds of animal are more prone to weight problems. Many breeds of dog were, in earlier times, working dogs, and their bodies are bred specifically for a busy lifestyle. Modern life as a pet can disagree with some of these breeds. Dachshunds, some Spaniels and Labradors for example are all often unlucky enough to lean towards obesity.
Treats can be a big problem. For many of us, food is love, and it can be hard to resist a dog begging for scraps. The trouble is, human food is usually not at all suitable for animals, and as much of what we eat is high in fat and additives, the calorific input from the quantities given can have a magnified affect. Ignore begging, and save treats for special occasions, to really let your dog know when they have pleased you. Remember that many treats are not created to be fed every day, and can be very unsuitable for constant feeding. You don’t have to cut treats altogether, but choose carefully and only offer sparingly.
If you and your vet decide that your pet does need to slim down, then there are a few things to consider :
- Daily diet. Monitor what you are feeding your pet, honestly, including treats, meal, items snaffled from the kids plates, everything. You might be surprised at the results, and an honest food diary will help you to control unnecessary calories.
- Reduce portion sizes. Even a small reduction combined with fewer snacks and more exercise will reap benefits quite quickly. Once again, check with your vet to ensure your animal is getting enough vitamins, minerals, fats and of course calories for a happy, healthy lifestyle.
- Feed at set times, especially if you have more than one pet, and remove the bowl rather than leaving your pet to graze, although make sure he has constant access to fresh water.
- Diet food. There are varieties on the market which are intended to help dogs and cats reach their optimum weight. As with human diets, there is an awful lot to be said for a simple, healthy diet and plenty of exercise, but your vet may feel more drastic measures are required. Use strictly according to advice to ensure your pet is getting what he needs.
- Exercise. It stands to reason that exercise is important for animals to keep them healthy. Even older pets will need relevant physical activity to keep in shape; and it has the added bonus of providing interest to their day, releasing energy, and perhaps allowing dogs to socialise with other animals. For most cats, plenty of fresh air is enough – they will pounce and run all day given the opportunity. For dogs, you will need to make sure they are having several bouts of activity each day. A short walk, a longer potter, a run round the garden, a game of tug ‘o’ war or even a swim in the sea or local (safe) waterway is perfect.
Once your pets has reached a healthy target weight, the tips above will all stand him in good stead for a long, happy life, and the added exercise will no doubt have it’s benefits for you, too!