The festive season is over and the New Year has begun. For many people, this is a time of year for making resolutions such as eating healthier or getting fitter. However, it’s not only our own health we can look at in the New Year but also the health of our pets. There is an increasing number of overweight pets in the UK, so it can be a good idea to get them checked out and take action early to prevent any long term health problems.
Why do pets become overweight?
Dogs, cats and even small furries can easily become overweight or even obese. Too much food, too little exercise or a combination of the two can quickly cause the weight to creep on. Often this happens slowly over time, making it difficult for owners to notice the difference. However, sometimes the weight can pile on quicker – for example, if pets are fed the same diet after neutering, or during times of decreased activity such as cage rest for an injury.
Some pets may be predisposed to weight gain. Neutered pets, as well as older pets, may be more likely to become overweight, due to changes in their metabolism. In older pets, a decrease in exercise may also put them at risk. Smaller breeds may be more likely to become overweight as their size means a small increase in the calories they eat can have a big effect on their weight.
Why is being overweight a problem?
Being overweight can predispose your pet to many serious health problems such as diabetes, heart function problems, and some cancers. In rabbits, it can even predispose them to flystrike; and in cats, it increases the risk of urinary problems. These conditions can negatively impact your pet’s quality of life as well as reducing their life span. It also puts more pressure on the bones and joints, which can worsen conditions such as osteoarthritis and make soft tissue injuries such as tendon and ligament damage harder to treat.
If my pet’s overweight, what should I do?
The first step in tackling your pet’s weight problem is to speak to your vet. They will be able to get an accurate weight and body condition score to assess whether your pet is an ideal weight or not. If your vet advises that your pet is overweight, or even obese, then it can be easy to feel upset. However, try to remember it is important to be aware of the problem and they only have your pet’s best interest at heart. From this, your vet will be able to suggest an ideal weight or body condition score for your pet, as well as providing a healthy time scale to achieve this over.
What can I do to reduce their weight?
The best place to start in achieving weight loss in pets is to look at their food. Ready formulated pet food is the easiest way to do this for cats and dogs. These can be fed as wet food, dry kibble or mixed. The important thing is to monitor exactly how much your pet is eating by portioning it out each mealtime. This will vary depending on the diet. Most manufacturers will have different diets for different life stages, breed sizes, and activity levels, so choosing one that suits your individual pet will provide them with the right amount of energy and extra nutrients to stay healthy.
It is also important in multi-pet households to ensure that each pet is eating their own food and only their own food. If you are following a homemade diet we advise that you talk to your vet in person and they will be able to advise you on how you can do this. Rabbits and small furries have different dietary requirements, so talking to one of our vets will help you to decide the best diet for your pet.
What about treats?
Whether as a training tool or as an extra between meals, many owners supplement their pets’ diet with treats. Treats that are made for pets are fine, but can quickly add up if given too many too often. Even products such as rawhide chews or bones can contribute to weight gain in pets. Feeding human food such as bits of leftovers, meat, cheese, and other foods can be particularly bad for weight gain in pets. Most people know to avoid toxic foods such as chocolate and raisins but excess treats such as bits of leftovers can be harmful to your pet’s long term health. If you have young children in the house it is important to watch them around mealtimes with pets, as they can quickly be adding to your pet’s waistline by feeding them off their own plate.
Cutting out the treats will often make a big difference and go a long way to helping your pet lose some weight. If you need to use treats for training or behaviour purposes then why not try pet-friendly vegetables such as carrots. This is often less effective for cats but can act as a tempting treat for dogs and rabbits. For cats or picky dogs, sourcing pet-friendly low-calorie treats can be a good compromise.
What about exercise?
Yes, exercise is an essential part of weight loss that can’t be overlooked. In some cases, such as a pet recovering from an injury/surgery diet where an increase in exercise is not possible, then the diet will play a more important role. However, most cases will require a balance between the two.
In dogs, the simplest way to increase exercise is to provide more walks. This could be longer walks or more frequent walks. If you are stretched for the time during the week then this mainly takes place at the weekend. It could even involve having a dog walker come round or getting friends and family to walk your pet sometimes.
Cats & Rabbits…
In pets such as cats and rabbits, you will need to be more creative to encourage exercise, but you can apply these tips to dogs too! Provide them with toys that encourage movement such as treat-balls or puzzle-bowls (filled with low-calorie treats). Changing their toys often will encourage them to stay interested and play with them. This doesn’t mean getting new toys every week but instead rotating their toys, so they don’t have them all out all the time. Keeping your pets occupied with toys will not only increase their activity levels, but also keep them occupied so less likely to scavenge or beg for extra food.
Rabbits and small pets…
Rabbits and other small pets can usually be kept active by increasing the area they have to run around. This can be done either by providing them a bigger run or enabling them to run loose in the garden if yours is secure enough and safe for them. Also by spreading out their food and hiding it around their living space, you will encourage them to move around to look for their food. If you graze your rabbit in a run or in the garden, then introducing strip grazing to limit the amount of fresh grass they eat in a day can be beneficial. Not only will it encourage them to eat their dry food and hay but it will also limit intake from high-calorie fresh grass.
How do we know if its working?
To ensure your pet’s diet and exercise are working to reduce their weight, you should be weighing them monthly. This is best achieved by bringing them into the vets to hop on the scales to ensure it is the same accuracy each time. You shouldn’t need an appointment for this – you can simply bring them into the vets. Make sure to keep a record of your pet’s weight so it can be added to their record and used to keep track of their weight. It is important to talk to one of our vets if you are concerned that your pet is either not losing weight as expected, has lost weight too quickly or has lost too much weight. Our vets will be able to investigate the problem and make any adjustments needed for their diet and exercise plan.
So in conclusion, if you suspect your pet is overweight, feel free to pop in and have a chat with one of our vets for a check over and assessment. Weight loss in pets can seem hard but there are plenty of tactics and tricks you can use to get them to their healthiest and happiest weight. If you have any questions then don’t hesitate to get in touch, as we are happy to help.