Animal obesity is becoming more common and can cause major animal health problems. Margot Thell is a licensed animal and medical nurse with extensive experience treating overweight pets and providing dietary advice for our furry friends.
Margot, how common is obesity in our pets?
Unfortunately, it is said that 50% of all of our pets are overweight today and it is constantly increasing, just like in humans.
What is it due to?
There are, of course, various reasons why obesity among our pets is increasing, but essentially it is due to improper diet and too little exercise. The positive thing about it is that it is relatively easy to correct for a pet owner who is persistent and consistent.
How do I know if my pet is overweight?
Usually the owner will not know it, but it is typically discovered during a veterinary visit that has been booked for a completely different reason. For animals we have something called BCI (body score index) and it is a scale from 1 to 9 where 1 corresponds to “lean” and 9 “heavily overweight”.
For dogs it is usually said that 4-5 is perfect. One should easily be able to see a clear marked waist of their dog, both from the top and from the side. Likewise, one should be able to feel the ribs only by light fingertip movements across the chest. If you do not, the animal is considered overweight, even if it is not much.
What are the most common symptoms of overweight in animals?
There is clearly less energy and increased joint inflammation. Even lungs, cross-band injuries, stiffness and difficulty getting up in the morning. Osteoarthritis is very common and, of course, does not get any better from any extra weight that both exacerbates pain and discomfort and speeds up the process.
What are the biggest dangers of a pet being overweight?
The most serious is of course a generally shortened life span, but an overweight animal is also exposed to an increased risk of suffering from disease or illness. For an overweight animal, there also poses a higher risk of complications during anaesthesia in surgery. In the worst case, the animal can potentially die in connection with these complications.
What can/should I as an animal owner do if I know or suspect that my pet is overweight?
We always recommend contacting an animal clinic that has trained dietary counselors. It is very important to introduce a long-term solution and a change of diet and exercise habits. A dog cannot grasp this on its own so we as pet owners bear the entire responsibility for the well-being of our animals.
How much impact does food and exercise have on obesity?
The diet is absolutely the most important factor and is where we start to look when creating a plan for an overweight animal. Of course, a healthy animal should move in some form naturally. Maybe walking, playing or similar, but first you have to deal with the diet.
How wrong is it to share your own food with the animal?
It’s not good at all. Animal feed is formulated to contain the right balance of everything your animal needs. You can never achieve this when you share your own food. Then it becomes an easy habit for your feed to be placed on top of the feed that the animal already eats and thus the animal itself receives too much food.
Then you also lose control of how much vitamins and minerals your pet is consuming. In addition, we as humans eat a lot of things that animals cannot tolerate. Examples are onions, grapes, raisins, etc.
If you want to be the best owner that you can possibly be to your pet then you need to ensure that you provide them with nutritious and tasty food suitable for your pet and nothing else.
How to think when changing the diet?
When you are going to “diet” an animal, one cannot simply distribute less amount of the same food that the animal has eaten before. Doing so will cause the animal to lose the necessary vitamins and minerals. Instead, you should add in special weight-loss specific foods that are composed in a way that makes the animal get everything it needs even though the amount of calories may be smaller.
When it comes to dogs, one should also go from 1-2 meals per day to 3-4 small meals. Then you start a more active fat burning process. You want to avoid a hungry dog and a feeling of “hunger” that causes the combustion to stop.
But how do I know which feed I should switch to?
It doesn’t matter much as long as you stick to a feed series that is adapted to the breed and size your animal belongs to. One can advantageously follow the same feed series through the entire growth of the animal. They often have well-composed feed for puppies, adolescents and adults as well as clear dosage indicated on the packaging.
What if my animal does not like the feed series I have chosen?
Then you try another brand that also has a series that fits the breed and size of your animal. For dogs however, it is very rare that they do not eat the food served. In cases where that may occur, they are often checked again for other symptoms that might not be yet discovered about them.
With cats it is different. They are more picky in terms of smell, temperature and consistency. Choose high quality cat food with good nutritional content and try it out until you find one that your cat likes.
What about exercise?
Exercise is important, but here it depends on how the animal feels otherwise. An overweight animal that is otherwise healthy is, of course, prescribed increased exercise in the form of longer walks/more walking or active play several times a day.
However, if the animal is suffering from pain due to the increased activity (joint inflammation or the like) then one adjusts the exercise and increases it as the conditions allow.
As with the diet, as a pet owner you have a great responsibility here because the animal is dependent on you being persistent and making sure that any exercise opportunities are taken advantage of.
We will help you!
We will be happy to help you set up a weight loss program. We calculate your pet ideal weight, give advice on diet and exercise and plan schedules for when you weigh your animal. Regular and individually adapted exercise is of course also important for all animals, not least for the overweight. By strictly following a weight loss program, you will improve your animal’s overall health and well-being. In return you will have a livelier, happier and more active animal with a higher quality of life.