The shorter days, and cold, wet weather all conspire at this time of year to prevent us and our pets getting out and about and this can have a negative impact on all our waistlines (pets and humans alike!). In this edition, we’re going to be looking at this “winter weight” and giving you some helpful tips on how to beat the bulge!
Why is it important?
Carrying extra weight places extra demands on virtually all the organs of the body. Excess weight can lead to or worsen many medical conditions, including…
- Joint and ligament problems (e.g. arthritis - see last month’s edition!).
- Heart disease and raised blood pressure (while heart attacks like in humans are fortunately very rare, there are measurable changes top heart function associated with obesity, especially in dogs).
- Diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”, which is in many ways similar to Type 2 Diabetes in humans, affects both dogs and cats).
- Breathing difficulties (and these can be really serious, especially if your pet develops some other respiratory problem as well).
- Decreased stamina
- Reduced heat tolerance
Why do pets get overweight?
There are a number of reasons, but one of the most important is where we haven’t selected exactly the right diet for our pets. After all, with so many choices on the market, it can be quite a minefield finding the ideal diet for them! The most important thing is that it should be balanced, but also fed in the correct quantities - accidental overfeeding is probably the main cause of overweight dogs and cats.
To help with this, many pet foods have a selection of age ranges, such as puppy/kitten, junior, adult, and senior. These are to help tailor the calorie and nutritional contents. Of course, keeping an adult dog on a high-energy junior or puppy food will tend to encourage excessive calorie consumption (sadly, most dogs and cats do not “self regulate” their food intake - if it’s available, they’ll eat it!).
Another major factor is that, for very good health reasons, many of our pets are neutered. However, without the metabolic effects of sex hormones coursing through their bodies, neutered cats and dogs are prone to putting weight on. Fortunately, many manufacturers now offer “Neutered” diets, with mild calorie control to counteract this.
Another important factor is that we love our pets, and want them to be happy… and all too many dogs and cats have worked out that looking “sad” encourages us to try and “cheer them up” with a treat! Sadly, most pet treats are very high in calories (like crisps for us…), and so even if the correct diet, in the correct amounts, is being fed morning and evening, those “little extras” are adding up! It’s usually best to avoid giving special treats, and offer some of the normal ration as a reward, taking it out of what you’re planning to feed that evening.
What can I do at home?
It is very important to keep an eye on winter weight gain and make sure it doesn’t become too great. Get into the habit of regularly feeling your dog’s ribs and monitoring their body shape. If they start to look a little broader about the beam, then you should be making some changes!
Even if they don’t look too bad, it is often a good idea to cut back a little on their food. Feeding fewer treats and moving to a ‘light’ version of their diet will help. Also, consider other activities for them. Many agility clubs train indoors in the winter, and you could also take them for a swim in our hydrotherapy pool, or just simply put on your waterproofs and get splashing in the puddles!
Can you help?
Yes, of course. Given the problems associated with excess weight, we feel it is vital to help you address it. If you feel they are getting a little too portly, we are happy to weigh your pet and advise you on his or her ideal weight. We will also recommend a complete clinical examination to check for any medical conditions that might be causing weight gain, such as an underactive thyroid in middle-aged dogs.
But what can be done?
To achieve weight loss, pets need a combination of a specially formulated calorie controlled diet (often down to perhaps ⅔ of their previous calorie intake) and more exercise. All pets need regular exercise, and increased walks, more frequent play, or increased access to the outdoors will all help to some extent.
If in doubt, give us a call! Our vets and nurses are more than happy to help you assess your pet, select the right diet for them, and then keep monitoring to ensure they stay on the straight and narrow (!).