Many of our beloved pets weigh more than they should; it is estimated that up to a third of New Zealand pets are actually overweight. According to Vet and Pet, a trusted Auckland-based veterinary practice, "more than 30 per cent of canines alone in New Zealand struggle with weight problems," and, really, is this surprising?
It's not uncommon to see a dog or a cat that is overweight nowadays, and we don't really stop to think about it. This needs to change, for the sake of our companions.
As it is, these overweight pets are suffering, and are at risk of serious life-threatening conditions.
The Risks Of Obesity In Pets
Whilst a chubby pet may seem full-of-life and unaffected by its weight, he/she definitely will not be the healthiest. In fact, being overweight puts your dog or cat at a much higher risk of developing joint-related injuries, serious diseases and heart conditions. This is why it is essential that you keep your pet at a healthy weight!
The common disorders that vets associate with being overweight are:
Respiratory and heart disease
Osteoarthritis and other joint/ligament problems
High blood pressure
Cancer, particularly intra-abdominal cancers
This is a scarily long list of potential problems for an overweight pet. All in all, you can expect an obese dog or cat to have a shorter life span than the average.
Reasons That Pets Are Overweight
There are various reasons as to why our furry friends are weighing more than they should. And usually, the underlying issue is that owners are overlooking the fact that their dog or cat is obese, believing that their pet is normal-sized and healthy. This can cause a lot of irreversible damage in the pet, which would have been completely preventable. It is up to us to see the problem and do something about it. Below is a chart to help you determine where your pet sits on the body fat scale.
What causes weight gain in our cats and dogs?
Overfeeding/overeating - many pets are susceptible to overeating as they are treated too much and given human foods regularly, on top of their own meals
Low activity levels - if a dog or cat lies around all day, not exercising much, then their body isn't given the chance to burn off the calories and fats that they eat
Breed - some breeds are known to gain weight quicker and easier than others
Age - senior pets are more prone to being overweight
Reproductive status (intact versus spayed/neutered) - neutered pets have lower energy levels, as well as lower metabolism which leads to weight gain
Preexisting diseases - some diseases can affect a pet's metabolism, eating habits and/or activity levels
What Can You Do?
Obesity in pets can happen as a result of any one of the things listed above so there isn't just one solution to get rid of the excess weight. However, you can take these measures to ensure your pets are as healthy as possible, and so that they don't end up suffering because of their weight:
Overfeeding/overeating is the main culprit in pet obesity. We all know our animals love their treats, and some of our pets would eat all day if they could, but how much our pets eat is up to us, not them. Therefore it is up to us to be responsible and feed them the right amount of the right food every day.
To promote weight loss in your pets, you can start by removing excess foods: no human meals, less treats. A large number of pet owners like to share their dinners, or snacks, with their furry friend thinking it's a good bonding tactic (which to be fair, it probably is) but it can do more harm than good in the long run. Human meals are too fatty and too salty for animals, and much of it can also be toxic - so best avoid feeding them human foods unless you're sure it's safe and it is a very rare treat. It's also important that you feed your dog, or cat, the right kind of food. Take a look at the packaging and opt for the food that is targeted towards your pet, e.g. the kibble labelled "for senior dogs" for your older dog. You should also take into consideration whether your companion should be eating wet or dry food, as vets may suggest dry food only for certain pets, and vice versa.
"When it comes to weight loss, the ratio of carbohydrates to fats and protein matters more than calories do," says CJ Puotinen, author of The Encyclopedia of Pets, "...the ideal canine weight-loss diet is high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and moderate in fat, which satisfies the appetite."
Whilst you are taking these measures and sorting out your pet's diet, it's a good idea to let the people around you know what you're up to as well, just so that they don't feed your pet something that will contradict your actions.
All animals, including humans, need exercise to burn off the foods they eat throughout the day. So, it goes without saying that if your dog or cat is eating a lot, they will need a good amount of physical activity to stay in shape.
Taking your dog for a walk, run and/or swim is the best way to ensure they have their exercise. You can't rely on them to run around the house and garden on a daily basis, they need to head outdoors and use the energy they have stored up. It's amazing to see so many people take their dogs with them when they head out cycling around Wanaka, and there are plenty of tracks that you can go for a casual walk on with your companion. Most dogs love the water, and the lake is just perfect for them to have fun in - as well as swimming, they can go mad fetching sticks and chasing waves. (Just going to throw this out there, if you don't have the time or the means to take your dog out yourself, we are here to help out! We love seeing dogs leaving their homes excitedly, and being dropped off happy but pooped after a fun walk or hike!)
For cats, exercise is just as important! Our feline friends need stimulation and play time - outdoor cats will have more of an active life than indoor cats, but that doesn't mean indoor cats shouldn't get any exercise time at all. You can help encourage exercise by making sure they have room to run around, and plenty of toys to play with. You can even get a "catnip spray" to ensure your cat will have a good time.
Taking your pet to the vets every once in a while for a check up is vital. Doing this gives the veterinary nurse a chance to asses your pet's overall health, as well as weighing them. This way, you can keep track of your pet's weight and progress.
The local vets can also give you more information and advice on what your pet needs to reduce their weight, and might even be able to figure out a lifestyle plan with you.