by Jennifer Sawyer
Pet obesity is a global problem, as 60% of the pet population is considered overweight/obese. Luckily, obesity is preventable! If you think your pet may be looking a little thicker than usual, and are looking for more information then read on!
What Is Obesity?
Obesity is when there is an accumulation of excess adipose tissue (fat). This is due to consuming more calories than required, per day. If your pet is less than 5% over their normal body weight they are considered to be overweight. If they are 20% over their body weight they are considered obese.
Pre-Disposing Factors of Obesity
An animal’s breed plays a very small role (only 3%) in obesity where as human-specific factors play a much larger role at 97%! These human-specific roles include the type of diet you are feeding your pet, physical activity levels, and general household lifestyle. Let’s delve into these human-specific factors a little bit more:
Type Of Food:
High calorie and highly palatable (extra delicious) pet foods can certainly contribute to obesity. Additionally, table scraps, homemade diets and treats can too! Not only does the type of food play a role, but also the way in which you offer it. If they are able to “free-feed” meaning they always have access to food, your pet may be more apt to over eat (depending on the pet!), as the food may not be measured as accurately as a set meal would be.
Often time’s owners overestimate the level of physical activity that their pet gets! Which may lead to consuming more calories than actually required.
Health Risks Associated With Obesity
Many health risks can arise as a result of your pet being overweight/obese. These include, but are not limited to:
Breathing Problems: Having to support extra weight is challenging for the lungs, which can lead to more panting/breathing difficulties.
Skin & Haircoat Problems: Being obese makes your pet more vulnerable to skin infections/inflammation, as well as other skin and haircoat conditions.
Arthritis: Carrying around extra weight can be strenuous on a pet’s joints and ligaments which can make moving around difficult and may even cause pain.
Heart Disease: The heart has to work much harder when a pet is overweight, which will impact their heart negatively in the long term.
Reduced Activity: Physical movement is harder when carrying around extra weight, so your pet may not want to be as active as they used to be.
All of these health risks can not only lead to a decreased quality of life for your pet, but is likely to reduce their lifespan!
How To Tell If Your Pet Is Obese
Determining if your pet is overweight can be tricky. If you are concerned that their weight is not ideal, be sure to reach out to your veterinarian to get their professional opinion.
An easy way for you to tell if your pet is overweight is by looking at your hand! If you put your hand out straight, palm down, and run your fingers (of your other hand) over the back of your hand- this is how your pet’s ribcage should feel. If it feels similar, then this indicates that they are likely at an ideal weight! Now, flip your hand over, palm facing upward, and run your fingers (of your other hand) across your knuckles through your palm (at the base of your finger tips). If your pet’s ribcage feels more like this- then they are likely overweight as there is too much of a fat padding over their ribcage.
Additionally, you can check for a “Tuck” and a “Waist”. A tuck is when you look at your animal from the side, and do not see a belly hanging down. Instead, their abdomen tucks upward after their rib cage. A waist can be viewed when you look at your animal from above, you will see a waist behind their ribcage if they are not overweight. This can be more challenging to see in a fluffy, or long-haired animals!
Tips to Keep Your Pet in Tip Top Shape
Luckily, obesity is preventable and treatable! Here are some tips to keep your pet in great shape:
Talk to Your Veterinary team: This is critical because your veterinary team has access to so many resources that can help you guide your pet to a lean body condition, safely! They can formulate a nutritional plan that includes your pet’s goal weight and the exact amount of calories needed per day, based on their current physique (including muscle & fat composition) and breed. This is very important because, you do not want your pet to lose weight too quickly, as that can further jeopardize their health. So don’t be afraid to speak with your vet to help your pet reach their ideal figure.
Choose a Well Balanced Food: There are many different pet foods available, choosing the right one can be challenging. It is important to ensure that the diet is well balanced for your pet’s specific life stage, and to consider the calories, fat and protein content as well. To be sure that you are choosing an appropriate diet, reach out to your veterinarian.
Calorie Reduction: Reducing your pet’s daily intake of calories will certainly result in losing weight. Your veterinary team will be able to calculate how much you need to reduce your pet’s calories by!
Measure Food: When feeding our pets it is easy to over feed! Often times we may be utilizing a bowl, or a scoop to “measure” their food- but this is what leads to overfeeding. It is important to use a measuring cup- that way you know exactly how much food they are getting. If you want to take it one step further, the most accurate way of measuring pet food is by using a food scale. Measuring or weighing the food will help ensure that you are giving the right amount of calories to your pet each day!
Exercise: Increasing exercise is a wonderful way to help your pet lose weight, and build muscle. For dogs, this can be achieved by increasing the frequency, or length, of walks you go on each day. Hanging out with other dog friends, either on a play date or at a dog park is a fantastic way of burning off some extra energy as well! If your pet doesn’t enjoy the company of other pet’s that’s okay- you could play fetch inside (if your space allows) or take them to a local park with their favourite toys!
For cats- exercise can be a bit more challenging because, cats can be a bit more stubborn. But purchasing a couple of toys and throwing them around your house/apartment will surely get your cat moving! There are also toys that can hold kibbles, so as they play, a kibble or two falls out, this can also motivate them to get activity in and can actually be used to give them a meal as well!
Altering Treats: Treats can be a huge culprit for obesity! Whether it is table scraps, or actual pet treats- they can be sneakily high in calories. A sure way to monitor your pet’s intake of treats is determine the caloric content and to give a certain number of treats per day. Treats should not account for more than 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake. If your pet’s favourite treats are too high in calories, consider breaking them into smaller pieces or purchasing a lower calorie treat such as dehydrated liver bits. If your pet is very food motivated- you may actually be able to get away with using their own kibbles as treats! This is perfect because, kibbles tend to be much lower in calories as they are so small!
Monitor Progress: Weigh your pet weekly to ensure they are losing weight at a healthy rate!
Monitoring your pet’s weight is very important to their health and quality of life. By following the tips above, you are sure to have a happy and healthy pet!