Obesity means having excess body fat that can impair one's health, quality of life, and welfare. It is a serious welfare issue not only because it can be physically disabling but because it can also cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory distress, and cancers.
Overweight and Obese Pets
Today, overweight and obese pets have also become a challenge for the pet food market, pet owners, and veterinarians, according to pet treat manufacturer Petfood Industry. It is no longer an isolated issue because it has affected a growing number of animals. Most pet food producers have also not launched pet food formulation and development that intends to support or prevent the treatment of pet obesity, overweight, and diabetes.
One kilogram of overweight in a dog and one kg. for a feline is already equivalent to seven and 25 kilos for humans, respectively. The manufacturer added that one of the culprits for why pets are overweight is that they maintain a sedentary life as the majority of pets now live in the urban area. A nutritionist has, however, shared that there are other factors to consider as well. For example, using too much starch in the extrusion process in creating pet foods causes excess carbohydrate consumption.
How to Check If Your Dog or Cat Is Overweight
For pet parents, UK-based animal welfare charity Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has shared tips on how to check if their dog or cat is overweight. If you cannot feel and see the outline of your dog’s ribs because the excess fat is covering it, it is a sign that your dog is overweight. Another sign is that the dog’s waist is not visible when viewed from above. Lastly, its belly is no longer tucked up when viewed from the side.
On the other hand, there are separate checks for cats. If you can no longer feel and see the cat’s ribs, hip bones, and spine, that is a sign of obesity. Second, the cat may be obese it its waist is not be visible when viewed from above, and third, if its belly is already sagging underneath. A small amount of belly fat is normal.
The animal welfare charity went on to say that certain pets are more likely to be overweight or obese. The several factors to consider include their breed, age, sex, owner, and neuter status. Certain breeds have a higher risk of obesity than others and their risk increases also with age. Furthermore, neutered dogs are more at risk too. Obesity is also more common in female pets and if the pet has obese owners, the pets may also be obese. The theory behind it is that pet owners are less likely to be physically fit or exercise their pets.
Body Condition Score
After recognizing that the pet is obese, the challenge doesn’t end there. Pets come in various sizes and shapes so it is not always practical to come up with an ideal weight. What is suggested by experts is to consider the body condition score, which focuses on the amount of tissue and skin that can be felt over the animal’s ribs. It also considers the shape over their underbelly and waist.
Dog and Cat Obesity: Statistics
A 2018 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) shows that an estimated 50 million dogs and 56 million cats in the US are obese or overweight.
German database company Statista also details the following US states with the fattest dogs in 2017: Minnesota (41%), Nebraska (39%), Michigan (38%), Idaho (38%), Nevada (36%), New Mexico (34%), Washington (34%), Utah (34%), Indiana (34%), and Oregon (34%). These are the US states with the fattest cats in the same year: Minnesota (46%), Nebraska (43%), Iowa (40%), Idaho (40%), Delaware (39%), Michigan (39%), Nevada (38%), Kansas (38%), Utah (37%), and New Mexico (37%). In a separate survey from 1,004 respondents in Sweden, the common reasons pet owners think their pet is suffering from obesity are the following: too little active training or activity (30%), castration (29.6%), old age (6.1%), disease (3.3%), wrong diet (2.8%), and other (19.2%).
Weight Loss Tips for Pets
Weight loss has not always been easy even for humans. How much more for our four-legged friends? Yet, getting in shape will add years to their life. The first tip to help your furry friend lose some few pounds is to increase the length and intensity of their daily walk by moving the bowl downstairs or upstairs or changing its location frequently so the dog has to walk to get their food. Try to play with the dog for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice per day.
Second, don’t use a self-feeder or auto-feeder as they are like a candy machine that makes your pet fat. If you absolutely need to use a self-feeder, choose one with a timer so that it opens only at a certain time. This measures or divides the food that your pet needs. Feeding small meals frequently is also advisable. However, it is always best to ask for the assistance of a veterinarian or pet healthcare team if you decide to put the dog on a diet because it may have an underlying condition that is contributing to its excess weight.
For multi-dog households, feeding the dogs separately is recommended. Make sure that you also don’t leave the food out while you are not at home because it would be impossible to control who among your pets have eaten or not. Achieving an ideal weight for pets could be possible within six to eight months and it would be helpful to have a concerned, committed, and dedicated family who understands that obesity is causing their dog harm. As pet owners, their duty is to protect them and not contribute to the development of diseases or worse, their premature death.
A Different Approach for Older Dogs
Older dogs will have an easier time moving if they are not overweight. Some of the tips to help older dogs lose weight is to feed them less carbohydrates but more protein. Then, avoid feeding your pet high-fiber foods because it can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the body.
Helping pets lose weight may be challenging but can be very rewarding. As their pain decreases, their level of fitness will improve and their energy will also increase.