Published on July 3rd, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Active Animals Keeping our Pets Healthy
The PDSA have warned that fat dogs, cats and rabbits are expected to outstrip their healthy counterparts by 2020. Obesity in pets is a growing issue and one that can lead to many health problems, as it can in humans. The same PDSA study suggested that 6 million dogs in the UK are given less than 1 hour of exercise a day and 250,000 are not walked at all. To overcome this problem, our pets should become active animals, we need to ensure that we are looking after our pets properly, feeding them the right food and ensuring they get enough exercise.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
You can use this basic test to see if your dog or cat is overweight. If you have concerns, or are unsure, your vet will be able to offer advice.
- You should be able to feel and see the outline of your dog’s ribs without excess fat
- Your dog’s waist should be visible when viewed from above
- Your dog’s belly should be tucked up when viewed from the side
- You should be able to see and feel your cat’s ribs, spine and hip bones
- Your cat’s waist should be visible when viewed from above
- Your cat’s belly should not be sagging and should only contain a small amount of belly fat
If you are worried that your animal is overweight then many veterinary practices are now offering weight loss clinics.
Why is my pet overweight?
There are a number of reasons why our pets become overweight or obese. In some cases, the reason is quite obvious. Animals are fed snacks or treats devoid of nutrition and high in empty calories. It isn’t unusual to see dogs chowing down on chocolate, crisps, biscuits and cake. These calories add up over time and are difficult for animals to burn off. Treats and leftovers do our pets no favours and yet 2 million dogs are fed on scraps or leftovers as their main meal.
It could be that your pet is consuming low grade pet food that is high in carbohydrate fillers but low in nutritional value. The cheaper the food, the lower grade and less healthy the ingredients are likely to be. Even if the quality of food is good, you may be serving your pet too large a portion, beyond what is recommended for the size, breed and age of the animal. Pet owners sometimes fail to read feeding guidelines on packaging or feed on demand to the detriment of their pet’s health.
Animals also need to be active. Lack of exercise and a poor diet is the key to why so many pets are becoming overweight. Often pet owners live busy lives and work long hours meaning that dogs in particular are not able to access the opportunities for exercise that they need to stay healthy and stimulated and keep an active body and mind.
What does obesity mean for my animal?
Obesity is excess body fat that damages a creature’s quality of life. Obese animals are more susceptible to chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and high blood pressure, all of which can ultimately reduce the life expectancy of your pet. One quarter of cats are estimated to be overweight. An overweight cat has an increased risk of bladder infections and kidney or liver disease in addition to the other chronic illnesses.
How can I make my pet healthier?
This may all sound a bit depressing but don’t worry, all is not lost. There are many ways to help your pet to become more active and lose weight. If your pet is very overweight, it is prudent to seek the advice of a vet to ensure the weight loss programme you use is appropriate for your animal. However, there are some more general things that you can do to make your pet healthier and happier.
It pays to offer your pet a higher grade of pet food with fewer carbohydrates and human grade ingredients. Better quality food contains more protein which is important for strong, lean muscles.
The best news of all is that giving your animal a more active lifestyle is great for your health too, and can be fun! Dog ownership helps to get us out of the house, which is great for our physical and mental health and that of our animal. When you are out walking your dog, remember that they don’t mind where they are, and they won’t get bored of the same route as there is always something new to sniff and explore. Your dog is often just glad to be out! If you find the same routine less stimulating, why not find some dog walking friends? It makes the trip more fun for you and the interaction with other dogs will help to increase your dog’s level of activity by running around after each other. Another good way of encouraging your dog to run further is by throwing a toy. The process of running, fetching and returning maximises the exercise session and your dog will enjoy the opportunity to hunt, chase and chew. You can add even more fun by throwing the toy into a hiding place to encourage your dog to use its senses to find it. This increases their mental stimulation.
There are lots of other ways to enjoy exercise sessions with your dog. If you enjoy running, why not take your pooch along? Start slowly to begin with regular stops so that you can both find your pace. If you live near a lake or a stream why not let your dog have a swim? It’s called doggy paddle for a reason. Swimming is fantastic exercise, particularly for older dogs or dogs with joint problems as it offers a low impact alternative to running.
Cats are trickier because they need stimulus but can’t be taken for a walk. Battery operated toys are a good choice for cats of busy owners to chase and catch, as are food puzzles. Cats are naturally interested in food and will go to some lengths to access hidden morsels. Both of these will mentally stimulate a cat and encourage it to move. For those with more time, 15 minutes play each day will encourage a cat to stretch, jump and run.
As pet owners, we have a responsibility to our furry friends to ensure that they eat and exercise well to enable them to enjoy a long and happy life – something that every pet owner wants for their animal.