Fat pets: an epidemic in the UK
By Pete Wedderburn Health and lifestyle Last updated: July 26th, 2010
From coffee-table-profile dogs to football-shaped cats and rabbits with double-double chins, the problem caused by too many calories and not enough exercise is out of control. A study just published shows that 59 per cent of pet dogs are overweight, with 20 per cent being clinically obese.
Obesity is bad enough on its own, making it difficult for animals to move around and do simple daily tasks like grooming themselves. But additionally, it aggravates all sorts of other problems, including arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.
You’d think it would be simple to keep pets slim and trim; after all, they can only eat what we give them. If your pet gets fat, offer a little less food, and they’ll soon slim down. Animals can’t open fridges or cupboards to help themselves when no-one’s looking.
Pet owners love to watch their animals enjoying eating, tucking into food with relish. There’s no doubt that it’s a satisfying sight, but why do people blank out the consequent distressing sight of a fat pet, having difficulty getting up because of the excessive weight?
The study also showed that pets fed on table scraps were more likely to be classed as obese, while those that received snacks and treats were significantly more likely to be overweight. I’ve often noticed this in practice: animals turn their nose away from their normal daily ration, because they’re not hungry. But if they’re offered a tasty treat, they’ll happily tuck into a little more. Some pet owners even complain to me that their obese pets aren’t hungry. They tell me that they have to tempt their pets with special home-cooked delicacies. I try to convince them that their pet isn’t hungry because its body doesn’t need any more calories, but I seem to be wasting my time. They just don’t get it.
When a pet becomes fat, it can be challenging to reverse the trend. Strict diet and exercise regimes are needed, using measured amounts of special low calorie pet food. Many overweight pets never regain the trim shape of their youth.
It’s far easier to identify a trend to obesity at an early stage, and then to trim back the normal daily rations before there is a big problem. If you are not sure about your pet’s weight, go to your local vet clinic for an assessment. Vets and nurses are trained to help you. One of the real fringe benefits of the annual pet health check is an annual “weigh-in”.
If your pet does gain unwanted weight, your local vet nurse is your closest ally in your effort to get that weight off again. Many vet nurses have a special interest in animal nutrition, and some even run “obesity clinics” for pets. These work in a similar way to human weight control clubs. First, your pet is weighed, to establish the severity of the problem. Next, a diet-and-exercise regime is designed, personalised for your pet. Special low-calorie diets are available to make it easy for animals to lose weight in a steady, controlled fashion. You are told exactly how much to give every day. If you follow the instructions, you are almost guaranteed to be successful.
These obesity clinics are often free-of-charge, and although there is some cost involved in purchasing the special low-calorie diets, in the long run, money is saved in other ways. Diseases of fat pets – such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes – are expensive to treat.
Slim pets are happier, healthier pets, but 59 per cent of dog owners out there don’t seem to be listening to this message. Time for the RSPCA police to get out the owner handcuffs en masse?