As we approach the holiday season, pets in the UK are already at crisis point when it comes to soaring obesity levels. And when pet obesity has been shown to shorten life expectancy in dogs by up to 2.5 years, it’s actually a life-or-death situation.
Holiday weight gain affects pets just like humans, and this year it’s particularly problematic as pets are already fatter than ever. Recent data shows over 1.4 million pets in the UK have gained weight since the start of the pandemic, including 850,000 dogs and 510,000 cats that are overweight, out of shape and struggling.
Problems caused by pet obesity are many: from diabetes, cancer, arthritis, kidney failure, high blood pressure, and arthritis. It also leads to a lower quality of life, as overweight animals are less energetic, less willing to play and generally enjoy life less.
Overweight dogs can live over two years less than dogs kept at a lean body condition depending on their breed, and an increasing number of obese cats and dogs are developing similar health problems to overweight humans.
Professor Alex German is a world-leading expert on pet obesity and oversees The Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic in Liverpool, the first specialist weight loss clinic for pets anywhere in the world.
From recognising the signs to personalising diet and finding the right treatment – Professor German can offer 5 strategies to help your pet lose weight and get healthier this holiday season.
1. Know the signs
It can be easy not to spot that your pet is overweight as signs might be subtle in the first instance. Pets in overweight conditions tend to have more fat under the skin. This is easiest to feel by running a flat hand over the ribcage without applying any pressure. Your local veterinarian can show you how to do this.
2. Keep your pet moving
There are so many benefits of regular exercise for your pets, not least in terms of fitness and wellbeing.
3. Weight monitoring
By weighing your pet consistently over time, you can quickly see if they are gaining weight and make any changes that may be needed earlier. Each pet’s ideal weight is different, even between siblings and depending on age and breed. Got a new cat or dog? You can refer to these helpful puppy growth charts to keep them on track from the start. Puppy Growth Charts | WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute
4. Food and portion control
It can be difficult to judge the correct portion size for your pet as there is huge variability even amongst similar shapes and sizes of animals. The needs of pets also differ across different life stages, just like humans. This can also be assessed by breed, size, and activity level and some pets may require specialised diets to help address excess weight or health issues. Speak to your veterinarian for tailored nutritional advice, and always use electronic scales to weigh food portions out accurately.
5. Tasteful treating
We all like to show how much we love our pets by giving them treats and titbits. However, it is easy to under-estimate the contribution that this makes to daily calorie intake. Instead, you could try portioning out a bit of their meal as a treat and using a puzzle feeder and many pets may even prefer extra attention from you to more treats. One other alternative is to substitute the low-calories treats for the ones you give usually, with my favourite low-calorie treat being cooked courgette. Believe it or not, both cats and dogs love this!