Obesity is a growing problem among cats and dogs. Some breeds are more prone to becoming overweight than others and indoor cats are more at risk as they tend to exercise less. There are many health problems associated with obesity including heart problems, exercise intolerance, arthritis and joint problems, diabetes, liver disease, urinary problems, increased blood pressure and breathing problems. Overweight animals also find it more difficult to groom themselves and their coat can become matted.
Neutered dogs and cats require fewer calories, so in order to prevent obesity the amount of food given should be reduced by 15-30% on average. Where possible, low fat or light diets should be given.
Free Weight-Watchers Clinics
Nurses run weight clinics where your pet will be weighed and given a body condition score (BCS). The ideal BCS is 3/5, this means that the ribs and spine are not visible but are easy to feel, there is an obvious waist and minimal abdominal fat. If your pet is overweight the nurse will recommend a low calorie diet and calculate the daily amount of food needed based on your pet’s ideal weight and BCS. Treats can be given as part of the daily amount, but must be kept to a minimum and human foods are not allowed as tit-bits. The nurse will arrange to see your pet every 2-4 weeks and the daily amount can be adjusted if required. Once your pet has reached its ideal weight, a suitable maintenance diet will be selected and the amount will be calculated.
The most common diets used for weight loss are Hill’s w/d, r/d and m/d (cats only). Royal Canin obesity management and satiety support are also available.
Why do they need to diet?
As with people, carrying too much weight is a major cause of arthritis, ligament strains, heart failure, bronchitis and liver disease in our pets. Pets living in centrally heated houses are very prone to putting on weight, especially if they have been neutered. Getting rid of that excess flab not only makes them healthier, but also makes them enjoy life much more. The staid pet which seems to have slowed down turns back into a lively friend, full of get up and go!
What can I do?
Pets, like us, burn up a certain number of calories a day. The number they burn up depends on their breed, how much exercise they have and whether you have central heating or not. If you give them more than this number, then they put on weight, if they have less, then they lose weight.
Getting your pet to lose weight is simply a matter of getting the number of calories going into the pet to be less than the number the pet uses.
Firstly by increasing the number of calories the pet needs a day. This can be changed simply by increasing the amount of exercise or reducing the temperature of the central heating! Secondly you can reduce the number of calories going in and there are several methods of doing this.
Using Ordinary Pet Foods
These are usually low in fibre, especially soluble fibre and high in carbohydrates. We need to increase the fibre and decrease the carbohydrates.
This can be done by replacing the biscuits and meal by things such as Ry-Vita, which provides the vitamins and fibre but not the carbohydrates and fat. Unfortunately this often leaves our pet feeling hungry and miserable and so we all find it very difficult to keep up.
Another way is to use one of the specially made diet foods available from pet shops. These are specially made diet foods made by companies such as Wafcol. These are quite good at keeping the weight down once the hard part is done, however it is again very difficult for most people to get their pet's weight down this way.
Using Prescription Diet Foods
In our experience the easist way, both for you and your pet, is to ask us about putting them on a specially made prescription diet that will make them feel full, have all the vitamins and minerals that they need but have very few calories. These are very effective and pets often like them as well! These are prescription diets as they are not suitable for feeding to pregnant animals or pets with certain illnesses and some may not be fed for more than six months without a break. We commonly use one of three sorts of diet food:
Hills r/d Diet comes as both dry and tinned food and is very high in soluble fibre. This means that it is very filling and pets on it will often lose weight quite quickly, however it is quite expensive. The dry diet is much cheaper than the tinned version and so we usually recommend trying it first. If your pet doesn't lose weight on it, then it usually has a basic medical problem, often hormonal.
Royal Canin Obesity diet comes as both dry and tinned food for dogs and dry or pouches for cats. The energy density is reduced by 50% whilst maintaining volume so the animal feels full. It contains chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine to help maintain normal mobility in the stressed joints of obese pets. It has a high protein content to help reduce loss of muscle mass. The dry diet works out cheaper than the tinned. Once the target weight has been achieved the animal can move on to a low calorie maintenance diet.
Hills Metabolic Diets comes as both dry and tinned food and is basically a normal diet with added vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that works with your pet's metabolism to help them loose weight. 88% of pets will lose weight within 2 months and it comes with a money back guarantee if your pet won't eat it!
It is almost impossible to stop people giving your pet treats, and even the most innocent treat can make the difference between losing weight and staying the same! We would suggest keeping part of the daily ration back and encouraging people to use this as treats.
Is the Diet Working?
Most people need help working out the right number of calories to feed their pet and choosing the right food. Regular weighing and the maintenance of a chart showing just how well you are doing also helps enormously. For those who buy their food through the practice we run a free "Weight-Watchers" clinic for pets and have nurses trained as Nutritional Advisors who will be delighted to help you decide on the right plan for your pet, and then help you monitor how you are doing. All you need to do is ring the Surgery you normally attend and make an appointment.
Carrying too much weight causes major problems. To lose weight we must reduce the number of calories in the diet. This can be done by either reducing the amount of ordinary food given and giving vegetables and bran if necessary or by using a specially designed diet food. Regular weighing is vital to monitor how you are doing, and the help and advice of someone who has a great deal of experience of dieting pets makes it much easier.
Once your pet is down to the target weight changing to the correctly calculated amount of a maintenance diet is vital if the weight is not going to go straight back on again.