After the indulgence of Christmas, PDSA is asking pet owners if their pets may benefit from a lifestyle makeover in the New Year.
Around four out of every ten UK cats and dogs are thought to be overweight or obese, which can lead to some serious health problems including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and some cancers.
Too many calories and not enough exercise are the key culprits, but the good news is that owners are usually in control of these factors. The PDSA advise that there are some simple changes you can make to improve your pet’s health and happiness.
The PDSA team advise that the first thing to do is to find out whether your pet is a healthy body shape. As a general rule you should be able to feel their ribs and spine if you run your hands down the top and the side of your pet’s body gently.
If you have to press down to feel them, they are probably overweight. With a healthy body shape, you should be able to see an ‘hourglass figure’ from above as your pet’s shape should tuck in at the waist.
Your vet or vet nurse can also show you how to do the assessment, which is known as Body Condition Scoring – a really helpful tool to help you figure out if your pet is the right weight.
It’s also important to take your pet for a check-up before starting them on a diet and your vet can check for any underlying health issues that could be causing fluctuations in weight.
Pet’s also shouldn’t lose weight too quickly; over restricting calories can be particularly dangerous for cats and rabbits. A vet or vet nurse can advise a target weight and weekly weight loss targets that won’t harm your pet, as well as an appropriate exercise regime.
Here are a few tips from PDSA vets and vet nurses to help your pets beat the bulge:
- Cut out the treats – even a small treat can significantly increase a pet’s calorie intake. So, don’t give in to their ‘puppy dog eyes’ – find different ways to reward them, such as play or grooming sessions.
- Increase exercise – it’s tempting to cut down on walks in bad weather, but it’s important to ensure you and your pets stay active all year round. Dogs need at least one walk a day including time off the lead when safe, although it’s often better to do more frequent walks rather than just one long one. The extra exercise might even help you towards your health goals too. Cats can be encouraged to play hunting-style games using fishing rod-type toys.
- Weigh out food – it’s surprising how easy it is to overfeed pets when you judge amounts ‘by eye’ or use scoops. Follow the feeding guidelines on the packaging if your pet is a healthy weight or check with your vet if they’re overweight and weigh out the exact amount you need using a set of scales. Split this into two or more meals a day, depending on your pet’s preference and needs.
The PDSA’s website has a handy guide with helpful pictures on how to check dogs, cats and rabbits – www.pdsa.org.uk/healthypets.