We are all acutely aware of the negative impact that being overweight can have on our health, but how many of us consider the same implications for our pets? In fact, it is quite typical for the media to misguidedly portray ‘chubby’ pets as healthy ones; just look at the cartoon kitties Garfield and Pusheen. We know that, just as in people, animals that are carrying extra pounds tend to have a shorter lifespan and will be more predisposed to a wide range of health conditions throughout their life, which is why we want to work with you to keep your pet a healthy weight.
Clinical research has shown that obese bunnies are more prone to gut stasis and fly strike. Similarly, fat cats are much more likely to get diabetes in their lifetime while fat dogs often suffer with osteoarthritis and mobility problems in later life. This short list of obesity-related ailments is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more potential implications that are simply beyond the scope of this blog.
Luckily, obesity is something that can be swiftly addressed and once animals reach a normal body weight, their risk of developing weight-related issues plummets.
First off, it is important to be able to identify if our pet is overweight or not, something which may not be as simple as it initially seems. To assist owners, the ‘Body Condition Score’ system has been developed, which allows us to assign a tangible number (ranging from one to nine) to each animal. While our vets and nurses will happily assess your animal with you, you can also do this at home by accessing the chart online. A low number (1-3) indicates an animal that is underweight, while a high number (6-9) tells us that weight loss is needed. Ideally, we are aiming for a 4 or a 5, with these animals usually having a few ribs that are just visible, a discernible waist and a tucked-up tummy. Of course, it can be more difficult to assess those animals with long or thick fur or those that have dense muscling, so we are always happy to help.
Once it has been established that your pet is chunkier than average, the fun can begin!
The first area to address, is their nutrition. A prescription weight loss diet will often give the best results as they have been developed to reduce hunger and increase metabolic rates. Remember to always feed your pet the amount recommended for their ideal weight rather than their current weight. Use a kitchen scales to provide accurate measurements and remember to deduct anything else they have eaten that day from their calorie allowance. While the odd bit of boiled chicken or carrot should not cause any major issues, steer clear of calorific foods such as rawhide chews, cheese, bread etc.
For rabbits, keep in mind that grass and hay should make up around 90% of their diet, with veggies, fruit, herbs and a small portion (around one to two egg cups) of pellets accounting for the rest.
Though it may take several weeks to start noticing the effects of a calorie-controlled diet, the effort will eventually pay off. Attending ‘weight clinics’ with our nurses, where your animal’s weight can be recorded every few weeks, is a super way to determine how the plan is going and to adjust things accordingly. Weight clinics are also a great time to bring in the packets of those foods and treats that you are giving and to discuss any food diaries that you have been keeping. Your animal’s weight will be recorded on our computer system each time you come in, so we should soon start to see their progress.
As well as diet, it is vital to provide enough exercise for your pet. This not only keeps them trim but provides much needed mental stimulation. Cats can be encouraged to move more with laser pointers and wind-up mice. Consider hiding portions of their dry kibble around the home, like a rewarding game of ‘hide and seek’. Dogs benefit from consistent walks, though caution is advised in geriatrics who may find a sudden increase in activity challenging. Discuss any new exercise programmes with our staff who can help point you in the right direction.
With just a few simple lifestyle changes, you can dramatically improve the quality of life of your pet, ensuring that they are around for as long as possible.