urn on the news and chances are that you’ll see at least one report on the obesity epidemic affecting many developed countries. Unfortunately, this goes for our pets as well. There’s no doubt that better nutrition standards for humans and animals has led to improved overall health. However, too much of a good thing has undeniably turned into a widespread problem. Here’s why your kindness could be hurting the one you love.
More than a third of Australian pets overweight or obese, yet many owners aren’t aware that their pet may have a weight problem, says Dr Chris Gleeson. ‘I’ve been practising for over ten years and the level of owner awareness about the appropriate body condition for their pet is still probably not where we would like it to be. Most of them are surprised when they find out that their pet is actually considered overweight or obese.’
Some people may have preconceived notions of what a breed normally looks like, whether that be from pictures, shows or the local park. However, these don’t necessarily translate to the optimal body condition for an individual animal, says Dr Chris. ‘Just as different people have different body shapes, the same applies for animals. That’s why it’s difficult to say an animal should weigh a certain amount – it’s more to do with how their physique and muscle to fat ratios compare.’
‘The optimal body condition in dogs and cats is being able to see a waist, to easily feel their ribs (without them sticking out prominently) and see that the abdomen is neatly tucked up underneath the body, rather than sagging down. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of assessing your pet’s body condition regularly.’
It’s not only important to feed the right type of food but also the right amount.
Obesity in animals is linked to a myriad of health issues, just like it is in humans – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, shortened lifespan and arthritis to name a few. Dr Chris says that respiratory problems in brachycephalic breeds of dogs, such as Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzus and British Bulldogs, are further exacerbated by carrying excess weight. ‘The anatomical features that make these breeds so loveable – in other words their pushed-in faces – also predispose them to breathing difficulties. Add lots of ‘love handles’ to the mix and we have a recipe for disaster.’
Feeding a good quality, balanced diet is critical to maintaining your pet’s health, he continues. ‘Many people worry that their dog or cat might get bored by eating the same type of food all the time but that’s not the case. Choose a premium brand such as Hills Science Diet, Advance or Royal Canin that is suited to your pet’s life-stage and stick to it. These are complete meals, which do not require supplementation so resist the temptation to give your pet anything else.’
Dr Chris says that it’s not only important to feed the right type of food but also the right amount. ‘The main determinant of weight for domestic pets is calorie intake. Use the feeding guide on the pack to begin with but then adjust the amount according to your pet’s body condition. Remember too, that an animal’s nutritional requirements can fluctuate so you may need to increase or reduce the portion as required. If you understand the basic principles to pet nutrition then you will set up your pet for a healthy and long life.’