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  • Britain’s Pet Obesity Crisis – The Importance Of Maintaining Your Pet’s Weight

    Britain’s Pet Obesity Crisis – The Importance Of Maintaining Your Pet’s Weight

    Maintaining your pet’s weight is an important part of pet ownership. Just like humans, animals that become overweight have the potential to develop a variety of health issues and this can have a negative impact on their quality of life. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) released a report in 2014 specifically aimed at pet obesity. The report’s evidence base included surveying vets throughout the UK. The report concluded that 77% of veterinary surgeons in the UK “believe that pet obesity is on the rise”. According to these vets, 45% of the overweight animals seen were dogs, followed by 40% being cats1

    Obesity can have a detrimental effect on a pet’s life and can cause further problems to develop. These include2:

    • Joint and bone disorders

    • Cardiovascular diseases 

    • Respiratory disorders (more prolific in small breeds of dog)

    • Development of cancers

    • Diabetes

    • Lowered immune system

    • Increased risk of heatstroke

    • Hypothyroidism

    • Incontinence 

    • Increased risk of anesthesia complications during surgery

    • Shortened lifespan

    The primary cause of obesity in our domestic pets is due to a combination of overfeeding and a lack of exercise. When your pet eats their dinner they are in taking energy and this energy needs to be expelled through physical exercise. If your pet’s exercise does not match the energy they intake through their food then this can result in unwanted weight gain. Therefore monitoring of meals and providing the optimal amount of exercise for your pet is vital to your pet’s well being.

    Some owners choose to feed their pet a light (calorie restricted) pet food to help with weight management. Whilst some of these foods might assist with weight loss, consideration needs to be given to the composition of these foods. Some of these foods are designed to be lower in fat and calories to help prevent excessive weight gain whilst containing higher fibre to keep the pet feeling full. Fibre is a complex carbohydrate. A study by Brown has demonstrated that fibre content is not central to a low-calorie diet. What matters is the caloric intake of the animal per unit of time3

    Most dry pet foods contain a fibre concentration of between 2.5 to 4.5 per cent, however, some calorie restricted pet foods may contain between 9 to 10 per cent fibre. Whilst this may keep your pet feeling full for longer, too much fibre can have a negative impact on your pet’s health. The key considerations are:

    (1) The quantity of fibre in your pet’s diet; and 

    (2) The type of fibre used in your pet’s diet. 

    An example of where small quantities of fibre can be particularly beneficial is in the diet of elderly pets where small amounts of dietary fibre can assist in maintaining healthy gut microflora and possibly even prevent disease4. Excessive quantities of dietary fibre can, however, decrease the digestibility of other nutrients and can, therefore, have a detrimental impact on your pet’s health and longevity.

    Further, a variety of fibre sources are used in pet foods, which have a differing effect on the digestibility of other nutrients contained within your pet’s food. Cellulose is one form of fibre that is often used as a bulking agent in weight management foods due to its virtually nonexistent calorie content5. It can, however, have a negative impact on the digestibility of other nutrients. For example, increasing cellulose from 0 to 20 per cent in cats’ diets has been shown to reduce organic matter digestibility from 86 to 68 percent6.

    Many light (calorie restricted) diets that are high in fibre are also high in other forms of carbohydrate. Dogs and cats do not thrive on high carbohydrate based diets. Their digestive systems are not as well adapted to digesting the same level of carbohydrates as humans, so their bodies must work harder to break these down7. Whilst dogs can benefit from appropriate quantities of certain types of carbohydrate in their diet, the same cannot be said for cats. Cats are especially poor at digesting carbohydrates as they are obligate carnivores and therefore have evolved to ingest high levels of protein. Links have been established between carbohydrate-rich diets and feline diabetes as a result of the digestive system and the pancreas having to work harder to break down the carbohydrates8.

    Pet foods rich in digestible protein are an excellent alternative to light (calorie restricted) foods. “Fresh” and “dried” meat is easier to digest compared to “meat meal”, “meat and animal derivatives”, and unidentified “animal by-products”. Feeding a diet that is rich in digestible protein can help with the “conservation of lean body mass” in obese cats and dogs9.

    Whether you choose a light (calorie restricted) food or a food rich in digestible protein for your pet’s weight management, it is very important to weigh out the food correctly. Using scales is preferred for dry foods as measuring cups may not be exact enough10. All foods will provide feeding guidelines based on your pet’s weight but these are not exact and you should adjust the guidelines accordingly for your pet. Often for overweight pets, it is recommended to feed them slightly less than the guidelines state to encourage weight loss. While an animal is on a diet it is important not to supplement their meals with excessive treats.

    However, if your pet absolutely loves their treats there are brands available that are low in fat but still delicious. Treats such as the Fish4Dogs Sea Jerky and Sea Wraps range are made of dried fish skins and are good for your dog’s teeth as well as being a great snack for any dieting dog. Cats don’t have to miss out either. Thrive Cat Treats have two tasty varieties that are low in fat: 100% Real Tuna Treats and 100% Real Chicken Treats. Both of these are sure to keep any cat happy.

    Increasing your pet’s exercise to help with weight loss can be a fun experience for your pet. Interacting with your dog or cat through games and toys will strengthen the bond between you and your pet as well as help them shed some extra weight. Cats are naturally more active in the mornings and evenings11, making this the best time of day to spend some extra quality time with your cat to help keep them fit. Interactive games on dog walks can help increase your dog’s exercise. Bringing their favourite toy on a walk to play with or walking them in new places to encourage them to explore will also help them shed the pounds.