Obesity in pets is a wide-spread issue

I was asked by an owner what the most common health problems I see in pets are, and what could they do to avoid them with their new puppy. Some of the most common diseases are osteoarthritis, heart disease and urinary issues. However the most common issue is obesity.

Approximately 45 per cent of dogs seen are overweight, along with 40 per cent of cats and almost 30 per cent of smaller pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs.

Overweight animals are at a higher risk of all the above issues, as well as diabetes, acute musculoskeletal injury and skin problems, and have a shorter life expectancy.

It has also been proven that overweight animals have a reduced quality of life; their ability to carry out normal social and play behaviour is reduced, leading to emotional distress, often missed by owners.

Assessing pets for being overweight is fairly easy. There are a couple of scales used, but the description of the ideal weight for most breeds is the same.

You should be able to easily feel their ribs, with no fat cover and no wobble when you move back your fingers back and forward. From the side there should be an upward tuck behind their ribs, and when viewed from above they should have a defined, well proportioned waist. Once their waist straightens out and you can’t see their ribs easily, your pet has approximately 36 to 40 per cent body fat.

The advice is simple — keep your pet’s weight healthy. However, putting this into practice can be a challenge. Most foods come with a guideline amount calculated by nutritionists so stick to the recommendations to start with and adjust according to your pet’s response. Weigh out the food as changing to ‘by eye’ can lead to gradually increasing the amount you feed.

Record the treats fed to your pet and reduce their meal size accordingly as this has been designed to be the only food they get all day. A small cube of cheese to a Cocker Spaniel is equivalent to a large muffin, and a small saucer of milk for a cat equates to three large muffins.

Exercise is just as important, not just the daily walk, but encourage dogs to play and explore. Activities such as agility also keep them mentally stimulated. Play is equally important for cats, as well as smaller pets and birds.

If you are worried about your pet’s weight then help is readily available, with many Robson and Prescott branches running weight management sessions. Scales at the branches are available and free to use whenever you’re passing.

By AMY CHAPMAN, Vet