The Association of Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) in the USA states that 53% of dogs are overweight, due to lack of exercise, access to too much food, poor feeding instructions and misinformation about calories. Pet obesity is one of the greatest health risks that our dogs & cats face – but it is also one of the most manageable and easiest problems we can fix. All it takes is a bit of education and understanding (and a little bit of common sense) from pet parents on the key causes of our pets becoming overweight.
Here are some frequently asked questions that we often receive from consumers looking for answers about their pet’s weight.
How do I know if my pet is overweight? Your veterinarian will weigh your dog or cat at their regular check-ups and advise accordingly if they fit within a healthy weight range for their age and breed. Between check-ups, an easy test you can do from home is placing your hands on their side, if their ribs are hard to feel or even impossible then it’s likely they are overweight. It should feel like a nice thin sheet covering the ribs – not a thick blanket!
What are the risks? According to APOP, some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include Type 2 diabetes, Respiratory and Heart disease, Osteoarthritis, High blood pressure and many forms of cancer (especially intra-abdominal cancers). In addition to this, overweight and obese dogs and cats are expected to live shorter lives than their lighter counterparts and are much less energetic and playful.
How important is diet? Our pets cannot go to the pet store, read the food label and choose what brand of food is best for their health. So it’s up to us, as their pet parent, to understand what diet is the most suitable for our pets.
To do this, we have to start from the beginning and understand the types of food that our pets can digest. Dogs and cats are descended from wolves and wild cats respectively. Cats are obligate carnivores; therefore they cannot digest the many non-meat ingredients that are often in their daily diet. Dogs are carnivores and can only digest a very small amount of non-meat ingredients. Both have evolved to thrive on a diet with high levels of protein and fat from raw meat and organs from hunting wild-prey.
Put simply, dogs and cats cannot digest carbohydrates, starch & plant matter in their food. This is the root cause of pet obesity – most commercial pet foods use over 70% carbohydrates like rice, maize, cereals, potatoes, carrots, peas, beetroot, grains, wheat, barley, cornmeal, soya, oats, meat meal and other non-meat ingredients that add no nutritional value to the food. The dogs and cats cannot digest them properly.
We often see commercial pet food companies advertising ‘low fat diet’ on the front of their packaging. Dogs and cats need fat in their diet. Fat provides high energy and a feeling of ‘fullness’ or satiation. A diet full of carbohydrates only expands the stomach but does not provide the feeling of fullness, resulting in overeating and the pet still never feeling fully satisfied. Diets full of carbohydrates turn into fat.
Feeding your dog a cat a diet high in natural meat and organs and natural fat is the best approach to ensure a healthy weight is achieved. A little hint… when reading a pet food label, ingredients are always listed in descendent order so the first 5 ingredients should always be real meat and organs. Watch out for “no grain” claims. It does not mean that the food has more meat in the food, the grains are often replaced with rice, beet, potatoes and peas, none of which our dogs or cats can digest and extract nutritional value from.
How much do I feed? Pet food companies have put in the hard work and calculated for you how much to feed your pet based on their age, current weight and activity level. Take the time to read these instructions on the label and follow them. We recommend that you weigh the food to make this as accurate as possible. Feeding only a few extra grams a day, especially for a small dog, adds up over time and can result in over feeding.
What about treats? We understand, we love giving our pets treats too! Treats are used very effectively in training techniques and creating special bonds between ourselves and our pets. Firstly, make sure the right treats are given – again, treats high in meat and organs and low in carbohydrates are the way to go. It is also important that you reduce the amount of food at their meal time if you have given treats between feeds to avoid over feeding. Try taking a portion of the daily food and use this as the treat instead of giving a separate treat for training. This way you know you are giving top quality treats and you can control the total daily calorific intake more easily.
How much exercise is the right amount? Ever heard the saying “energy in, energy out” – it’s a simple analogy but it’s a good one. This applies for ourselves just as much as it does our pets – the energy (calories) that we put into our body, has to equally be used up by our body in output. If the energy is not burnt by output – it is stored and will turn into fat. Every dog and cat is different and will require a different level of activity depending on their weight, age, metabolism, and their diet. Dogs, by their size alone, naturally have a lot more energy to burn and require longer walks and play time. For cats, cats enjoy toys that remind them of ‘hunting’ in the wild, chasing or pouncing which is great for burning energy.
Remember – Your dog or cat will enjoy exercise much more when they are lighter and not carrying excess weight. If your dog or cat is overweight, start with smaller amounts of exercise and do a little more each day, it will become more appealing for them once they are less sluggish and fatigued from carrying the extra weight. Remember to also feed them a little less to help reduce the weight slowly.