Cats and dogs need to exercise regularly and eat well to live a long and healthy life. However, many pet lovers are killing their pets with kindness by allowing them to overeat.
According to Dr. Brenda Bush of Island Veterinary Services, ‘Dogs and cats weighing in excess of 15 per cent of their ideal body weight are typically classified as obese.’
She says: ‘Obesity is the most common nutritional problem affecting pets.
‘In most cases your pet becomes overweight by consuming a daily caloric intake in excess of the daily requirement. This may take the form of overfeeding… maintenance food or feeding a calorie-dense food containing high fat and, of course, table scraps and too many treats.’
Often excessive weight gain happens over time. If this is the case it may be so gradual that owners may only realise that Fido or Felix is hefty when the extra pounds are clearly affecting the pet’s health.
According to Nadine Brandson of Cayman Animal Hospital, some of the warning signs that pet needs to lose weight include:
? Difficulty or slowness when walking
?Its collar is getting too tight
?Its ribs can’t easily be felt
? Shortness of breath
?Sleeping more than normal
? Bad tempered.
As in humans, overeating in cats and dogs can lead to serious health issues. Common medical complaints which can be caused or exacerbated by consistent overeating include: diabetes, arthritis, respiratory problems and heart disease.
Not only are these ailments life threatening if left unchecked, they can cause extreme distress for your animal and be costly to treat.
Some owners allow their pets to become heavy because they think they look cute.
Nadine says: ‘Many owners express their affection for their pets in the form of extra food and treats, whereas the best reward you can give… is extra attention in the form of exercise – a nice long leash walk together twice a day – or in play which is great exercise too.’
Be proactive when it comes to the health of your entire family.
? Improve your dog’s muscle tone by cross training. Take him/her walking on the beach or for a swim in your pool to enjoy the benefits of a little resistance training
? Take them on twice daily walks, which allow for run-around time (please remember to take a pooper scooper when taking your dog out to public places)
?Hide toys or snacks for them to hunt
?Trail some string or shine a torch on the wall and let them chase.
Bush says that other reasons that can predispose cats and dogs to gain weight include ‘genetics and diseases such as hypothyroidism’.
Experts claim that all cats and dogs have an ideal weight for their size and breed. If you are unsure of what your pet’s optimum weight is, seek advice from your neighbourhood vet. Not only will your vet be able to give you concise information of what weight range your animal should fall into, he or she can give you expert advice on how you can help your pet slim down gradually and maintain an ideal weight.
Other reasons which can affect a pet’s weight include what breed it is, its age and underlying medical issues. Some breeds of dogs have a tendency to put weight on faster than others and evidence suggests that mixed breed cats have that tendency too.
Bush adds that ‘the commitment of the owner to the pet’s weight loss plan is the single most important factor. In fact, all family members must be convinced that an obesity problem exists and all work together to help the pet attain the ideal weight as prescribed by the veterinarian.’
When it comes to dieting, she says: ‘Cats especially should be monitored frequently when they’ve been put on a diet.
‘Taking weight off too rapidly, especially in cats, can cause liver problems like loss of appetite, vomiting and, in the most extreme cases, jaundice.’
And whereas weight loss in dogs will usually involve reducing their calorific intake while increasing the amount of weekly exercise they take, the same approach simply does not work for felines.
‘Weight reduction in cats depends almost entirely on reducing calorie intake as exercise programmes are difficult, if not impossible to implement. We now have commercial prescription diets that can help your pet feel satisfied but reduce calorie intake. Your veterinarian would have to prescribe this for your pet,’ Bush says.
She advises that light diets and diets for less active animals are available over the counter.
The veterinarian recommends that if overeating is largely to blame, then owners should try shopping smart when buying pet food.
‘To have a successful weight loss plan, you may need to buy your pets’ commercially available fat-free and calorie reduced treats,’ she says. ‘Some dogs love small baby carrots as a treat as they are sweet and crunchy.’
Keep a food diary, noting down when and how much food/treats your pet is given. Some pet foods have weight and size feeding guides.
Aside from regular pet weight check-ups, vets can draw up a slimming plan and give you pointers in terms of suitable pet food brands.
The eating and lifestyle changes needed to get your pet from hefty to healthy and slim will quickly improve their quality of life – and yours.