The number of overweight pets in Australia is alarmingly high, and just like overweight people, there are serious health implications. It’s estimated that over a third of all pets are overweight, making them prone to cardiac disease, respiratory problems and diabetes, amongst other health issues.

My dog, Riley, is a Golden Retriever, a breed known for being a ‘garbage guts’ and often overweight. I make a conscious effort to manage Riley’s weight because I know that obese pets have a shorter life span, poorer quality of life and compromised welfare. I’ve compiled the following information and tips to help you understand and manage your pet’s weight.

How to tell if your pet is overweight

Stand above your pet and look down, they should have a taper at their waist (between their abdomen and hips). You should not be able to see your pet’s ribs, but you should be able to feel them easily. If instead you can feel a nice layer of padding, your pet is overweight.

Common causes

Obesity in pets is caused by the same processes that affect humans – taking in more calories than are expended and the rest being stored as fat. Contributing factors include:

  • Not adjusting food intake to an animal’s energy requirements
  • Providing food ad lib and assuming the pet will regulate its own intake
  • Ignoring the caloric value of treats and snacks – it all adds up
  • Lack of exercise
  • Indulging pets whenever they beg for food
  • Breed differences – some breeds tend be very greedy and will go to great lengths to raid the bin or table scraps. These breeds need to be on a strict dietary regimen.
  • Ultimately, the owner is a crucial factor determining the calorie intake and therefore the pet’s weight

Ways to help your pet lose weight

Before starting any kind of diet or lifestyle change with your pet, be sure to visit your vet for advice and a thorough medical examination. Strategies to help you manage your pet’s weight include:

Reducing caloric intake

Your vet will calculate the weight loss that should be achieved and provide you with a calorie-controlled diet.

Feeding prescription diet food

This will provide bulk to give the feeling of fullness, but with limited calories.

Cutting out snacks or substituting them for healthy treats

Aiming for your pet to lose about 15% body weight over a period of 16-18 weeks

Increasing meal frequency

Split the daily amount of food into two or three meals, this will help alleviate hunger and burn energy.

Encouraging exercise

Exercise is a crucial part of any weight loss regimen for dogs. If your dog is unfit, start with a daily 15-minute gentle on-lead walking and gradually build this up over a month to an hour of daily exercise and include off-lead running when possible.

Cats are harder to exercise than dogs, but the good news is that they are also less likely to be overweight than dogs. To encourage exercise, make your cat work for their food. Instead of putting food in a bowl, place a trail of food around your house so your cat must hunt for it.

Many cats live a sedentary indoor life, but if you create an enriched environment by providing them with things to climb, scratching posts and interactive toys, they will be more likely to get off your cosy couch and start moving.

Written by Dr Katrina Warren

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