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WEIGHT MANAGEMENT IN DOGS
IS YOUR DOG OVERWEIGHT? DON’T TAKE IT LIGHTLY
Did you know that 1 in 3 pets in the UK are overweight or obese?* Many of us don’t realize that our dog is overweight, because the weight gain is easy to overlook as it often takes place gradually over time. Even though it’s happening right in front of you, a few ounces here and there might not be immediately noticeable. However, they can really add up to some serious health issues.
WHY BEING OVERWEIGHT MATTERS
Even if you’ve noticed your dog is carrying a few extra pounds, you may not be aware how much it can affect his health. Being as little as 20% overweight can greatly increase the risk of your dog developing serious health conditions such as diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, urinary stones or heart disease.
Plus, excess weight can not only have a negative impact on your dog’s general wellbeing, happiness and overall quality of life, it can also significantly shorten his life expectancy compared to a healthy-weight pet.
Is my dog overweight?
Your dog may look just fine to you, but ideal weight varies by size and breed. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what your dog’s ideal weight is. Between check-ups, you can still assess if your dog is maintaining a healthy weight. Place your hand on his side, and if his ribs are hard to feel or even impossible to feel, he’s likely overweight.
Here are some other signs of obesity you may notice:
Loss of an obvious waist
Collar needs loosening
Difficulty in walking
Shortness of breath
Sleeping more than usual
What causes weight gain in dogs?
Weight gain is the result of an increase in body fat. This is usually caused by eating too much, especially when combined with lack of exercise. But there can be other contributing factors, too.
Older dogs are less active, have less energy, and require fewer calories, which is why nutrition formulated for his age is vital to his weight and overall health.
Some dog breeds are more likely to gain weight
Clinical studies have shown that the basic metabolism of neutered dogs is lower, and they require few calories
Very occasionally weight gain is associated with a medical disorder that may require specific treatment
Dogs with unlimited access to food understandably eat more than they need — this includes table scraps from family members
Many commercial foods are loaded with salt and fat, which can improve taste but make your dog want to gorge
Exercising with your dog
As well as feeding your dog the correct nutrition, promoting regular exercise will help the process of healthy weight loss. Here are a few workout tips for exercises you and your dog can do together.
Power dog walks with intervals
Take your dog for a walk on a leash. Throughout the walk, mix in some intervals of jogging, running or high stepping to help increase your heart rate and burn calories for both you and your dog.
Dog squat tease
Stand with your legs spread shoulder width in preparation to do a leg squat. As you descend, tap your dog with his favourite toy. As you rise, lift the toy above your head to encourage your dog to jump after it. This can be done in your home and outside as well.
Just like you did with your friends as a kid, play tag with your dog at your local dog park, in your backyard or even inside your house. You’ll both get a great cardio workout as your dog tries to chase you down.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOG FOOD FOR WEIGHT LOSS
The food your dog eats directly affects his overall health and well-being. Balanced nutrition is an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. Eating too much dog food, snacks or people food can increase weight gain.
Proper nutrition plays a very important role in treating an overweight dog. Ask your vet about Hill’s line of weight management foods to help your dog lose weight and maintain a healthy & active life
WEIGHT MANAGEMENT IN CATS
Just an extra pound or two can make a major difference in your cat’s health, general wellbeing and overall quality of life. All cats have an ideal weight for their size and breed, and your veterinarian can tell you what this is.
Excess weight can lead to less play time and depression. It can even significantly shorten your cat’s life expectancy as compared to a healthy weight pet. Overweight cats can have a greatly increased risk of developing serious health conditions such as diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, urinary stones, heart disease, breathing difficulty and even bladder cancer.
If your cat is overweight, you’re not alone. 1 in 3 pets in the UK are overweight.* It can be hard to tell if your pet is gaining weight because it happens gradually over time. The important thing is that you take steps to help your cat lose pounds and achieve a healthy weight.
What causes weight gain in cats?
Cat weight gain is the result of an increase in body fat. This is usually caused by eating too much, especially when combined with a lack of exercise. But there can be other contributing factors too.
Older cats are less active, have less energy, and require fewer calories. They are prone to weight gain.
Some cat breeds are more likely to gain weight. This is most typical in mixed breed cats.
Female cats are more likely to become overweight.
Very occasionally weight gain is associated with a medical disorder that may require specific treatment.
Clinical studies have shown that the basic metabolism of neutered cats is lower. Neutered cats actually require fewer calories. Spayed or neutered cats are twice as likely to become obese due to a more sedentary lifestyle. (There are many important health reasons to have your pet spayed or neutered — just remember to monitor your cat’s weight.)
Cats with unlimited access to food understandably eat more than they need.
Many commercial foods are loaded with salt and fat. This improves taste, which means your cat will want to gorge.
Feeding table scraps and “people food” can lead to obesity.
LACK OF EXERCISE
Too much food and too little exercise produces a typical result: obesity.
Remember, even if your cat does not show signs of being overweight, it is important to have regular weight checks at the veterinarian’s office to make sure her ideal weight is maintained.
Signs that your cat is overweight
Between check-ups, you can perform a simple test to see if your cat is maintaining a healthy weight. Place your hands on your cat’s side — are her ribs hard to feel or even impossible to feel? If so, she is likely overweight. You may also notice some of these additional signs:
Loss of an obvious waist
Collar needs loosening
Difficulty in walking
Shortness of breath
Sleeping more than usual
Taking steps for cat weight loss
As well as feeding your cat the correct nutrition, promoting regular exercise will help with the process of healthy weight loss. Here are a few exercise and workout tips you and your cat can do together:
Playing with toys
Giving your cat some homemade or pet shop toys can encourage her to get moving.
Catch the light
Shine a white light torch on the walls and let your cat play. Be careful not to use a red light laser, though – it can damage your cat’s eyes.
Try talking your cat out for a walk on a harness. Cat harnesses are available from your pet shop. While you’re out, encourage your cat to jump and play using natural “toys” like piles of leaves.
ASK YOUR VET ABOUT YOUR CAT’S FOOD
Your cat’s food is perhaps the single-most important factor in helping her maintain an ideal weight. Ask your vet for a food recommendation for weight loss, including what food and how much, and do your best to stick to it. This is key because once your cat has been overweight, she may be prone to weight gain. Your cat should have an ongoing weight-management plan based on good nutrition, exercise and regular check-ups plus weigh-ins.
Obesity in cats
The most common form of malnutrition within pets in the UK is the overconsumption of calories leading to obesity.
It is estimated that between 39 and 52 per cent of cats in the UK are overweight or obese.
‘Obese’ cats are those that are at least 20 per cent heavier than the optimal weight due to excessive fat accumulation.
A cat is ‘overweight’ if it is 10 to 19 per cent heavier than the optimal weight. Ideally, cats should be fed to maintain their optimal bodyweight. Long-term studies have shown that both obesity and excessive thinness shorten life expectancy.
Assessment of body condition
Bodyweight can be used to assess whether or not a cat has gained or lost weight. However, dictating a weight which is ideal depends on the age and breed of the cat. Therefore, a scale assessing the body condition (body condition score, BCS) is often used.
This scale grades the body condition of the cat from 1-5, where a BCS of 1 is very thin, 3 is ideal and 5 is obese. An obese cat is one in which the ribs are hard to feel as they are covered by a thick layer of fat, there is a moderate to thick layer of fat covering all the bony prominences, and the cat has a pendulous ‘skirt’ (bulge under the abdomen), with no waist.
The chart below is a useful way to assess your cat’s body condition, together with its overall muscle condition.
Health risks in obesity
Obesity increases the risks of the development, or the progression, of many diseases (see below).
Disorders for which obesity is a risk factor
Possible complications of obesity
Diabetes mellitus Increased anaesthetic risk
Lower urinary tract disease (cystitis, etc) Decreased immune function
Joint stress and aggravation of osteoarthritis Dystocia (problems giving birth)
Non-allergic skin diseases Breathing problems (‘Pickwicklan’ syndrome)
Hepatic lipidosis (fat deposited in the liver)
Decreased stamina and excercise tolerance
Risks for development of obesity
Weight gain occurs when cats have a ‘positive energy balance’ for an extended period of time, meaning they are taking in more calories than they are using. The excess energy is stored as fat. In most instances the body is able to regulate energy intake so it matches energy use, maintaining the body condition around its ‘set point’. However, certain factors can affect this set point and predispose the cat to weight gain.
Purebred cats are less likely to develop obesity than moggies. Neutered cats tend to gain weight more easily than entire animals. When a cat is neutered, the metabolic rate decreases by about 20 per cent so neutered cats require less food than intact cats to maintain body condition. Activity can contribute markedly to the energy requirements of an individual. Cats with decreased activity or restricted opportunities for exercise are at a greater risk of gaining weight than active cats. Intact cats have a tendency to roam. Neutering reduces the desire to roam and the amount of physical activity undertaken by the cat declines.
The age of the cat has also been related to the prevalence of obesity. Cats under 2 years of age are less likely to be overweight, whereas cats between 2 and 10 years require less energy and are, therefore, more likely to be overweight. Senior and geriatric cats (cats of over 10 years of age) tend to be underweight.
Feeding a diet that is very palatable and energy dense predisposes cats to overeating and encourages obesity, especially if such foods are available freely or used excessively as ‘treats’. In addition, there are certain medications that can predispose to weight gain, either by increasing the appetite or decreasing the metabolic rate. Drugs commonly associated with weight gain include corticosteroids (such as prednisolone), amytripyline and cyproheptidine.
Treatment of obesity
It is dangerous for cats to lose weight too quickly because this predisposes them to the development of hepatic lipidosis, a potentially fatal liver disease whereby fat is deposited within the liver as a result of a change in metabolism during fasting. A gradual, steady decrease in bodyweight is ideal; it may take up to a year for a severely overweight cat to reach its ideal body condition. A veterinary surgeon can draw up a weight loss programme that combines a suitable feeding and exercise plan with careful monitoring. It is very hard to see weight loss in a cat that you are in close contact with on a daily basis. Regular visits to a veterinary surgeon for weigh-ins will also ensure that weight loss is not too rapid.
Cats are carnivores and, unlike humans and dogs, they must have meat in their diet to survive. A cat’s natural diet consisting of small prey mammals would be high in protein and low in carbohydrate. In order for cats to lose weight, veterinary diets have been designed which are high in protein, low in fat and low in carbohydrate. This helps cats to lose fat whilst maintaining lean body mass (ie, muscle).
In addition to a suitable diet, cats can be encouraged to exercise either through increasing play, or by encouraging movement around the house (walking up and down stairs either by using a pet harness or by moving feeding bowls etc).
Puzzle feeders have also been found to enhance physical and emotional wellbeing. More information on puzzle feeders can be found here.
Once a cat has reached its target weight, it may be preferable to feed a ‘light’ or low calorie food. These diets are designed for the less active feline and do not contain as many calories as the normal maintenance foods. While it is hard to see weight loss in a cat that you are watching every day, it is equally difficult to see the early stages of weight gain. Regular weight checks should be continued to ensure that the fat doesn’t start to creep back on.