The words tubby, flabby or fatty should not be words used by your friends during a braai to describe your beloved pet. Weight gain should not be preventing them from being unable to join you for a snuggle in bed as they cannot make it up the stairs. Unlike wild animals, who spend a great deal of energy catching or looking for food, our spoilt fluffballs have the luxury of only having to follow their nose to the delightful kitchen which contains an assortment of fine treats. This means our pet’s energy intake (food consumed) outweighs their energy output (seeking food) placing them in a “positive” energy balance. You may be thinking that “positive” is a good thing right? Not in this case, as any extra energy is converted into adipose (fat) tissue. We as caring owners, therefore, need to think of ways in which we can increase our pets’ energy output to help restore the energy balance.
Firstly, look at what you are feeding your little -or maybe not so little- rascal. A well-balanced diet devoid of any treats is the first step in correcting this balance. You may think that it is just “one little doggy biscuit” however, that biscuit is the equivalent to one hamburger a day for us. Think what would happen to your waistline should you eat a hamburger a day on top of your usual daily intake! If you absolutely need to give Fido a treat because he is looking at you with “those eyes” then please stick to apples or carrots. You may feel bad initially but remember that obesity can reduce the lifespan of your dog by 2 years and your cat by 5 years. Think of all the walks, cuddles, kisses, and love you will miss out on all because you could not say NO.
Next, exercise, exercise, exercise. It is a fun way to increase your pet’s daily energy expenditure and we all know that Covid has not been kind to our own physique. There is growing evidence that overweight owners were more likely to own overweight animals. Take up the challenge and change both you and your fur baby’s way of life. Start slow, with short daily walks during the cooler hours of the day, and gradually increase the speed and distance. Have a pet with arthritis who just can’t manage to go for walk anymore? Fat itself is an inflammatory process so any arthritis that your golden oldy may have will be contently made worse by the chronic inflammation from the fat as well as having to lug around the extra weight. Weight loss in itself can improve the quality of life of these precious pets and frequently you will find that you can even decrease the amount of pain medication that they require to keep them comfortable. So if this is your pet, consult with your veterinarian to help you get their pain under control, and then the next stop should be your veterinary physiotherapist. Hydrotherapy (i.e., swimming) is great in these cases as the buoyancy afforded by the water allows the pet to exercise with minimal weight on the joints. A veterinary physiotherapist will also be able to use other modalities such as a laser, transcutaneous electrostimulation, or massage to relieve your pet’s pain and thereby increase their mobility.
Thirdly, remember each animal is an individual. Just because your sister is able to eat three hamburgers a day and look great in a bikini, it does not mean you can pull off the same stunt. Some breeds are predisposed to be weight gain such as a Labrador, who just looks at cookies and puts on the weight. Age also plays a role and pets (like us) have a decreased metabolic rate and usually a decreased activity level as they get older. Sterilisation, coupled with the resultant decreased activity levels (no longer off to wander the roads looking for a mate), decreased metabolic rate and an increased appetite can predispose your pet to weight gain. Feeding a diet lower in calories can help prevent the battle of the scale in the first place.
If you have tried all the above-mentioned and your pet is still a roly-poly, then it is time for a check-up with your local Dr. Dolittle. Conditions such as cushings and hypothyroidism can lower your pet’s metabolic rate, leading to diseases that can be detected in your pet’s blood. There are also fantastic weight loss clinics at many veterinary practices due to increasing in pet obesity within South Africa. These clinics are free of charge, have great resources, and could help you find out what could be causing Felix to be a Garfield.
Please, we know you love them and want only the best for them so do not fall into the obesity trap. Should you be unsure if your pet is overweight or not, make an appointment with your veterinarian or veterinary physiotherapist. Studies have revealed that 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners thought their pet’s weight to be normal, when in fact they were either overweight or obese. Obesity is a silent killer predisposing your pet to high blood pressure, cancers, heart and respiratory disorders as well as diabetes.
So don’t ‘paws’ – act now and give your pet the maximum love with a balanced lifestyle each and every day.
Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.