Keeping pets trim is better for health

AS the weather is improving my excuses for leaving my bike in the garage in favour of my car are wearing thin.

Like it or not, exercise and healthy eating is good for us — and also for our furry friends.

Obesity is getting more common in pets and we are seeing increasing numbers of certain medical conditions.

Diabetes mellitus is normally, although not always, diagnosed in cats and dogs who have been overweight, but then suddenly start drinking more and losing condition. If identified quickly it is sometimes reversible in cats, but in dogs it can be medically challenging and costly to manage for the rest of their life.

In older animals, heart disease and osteoarthritis are common. Neither is caused directly by weight increase, but both are more difficult to treat in portly pets. In arthritis cases, I have seen dogs that can stop pain relief medication when they achieve a fit weight, and animals with heart complaints have longer lives if they are fit and active.

Many types of tumour are more common in cats and dogs with ‘excess baggage’. It is more difficult to notice small tumours in overweight animals so they are likely to be larger before presenting to the vet. When we come to remove or biopsy these growths, there are increased anaesthetic risks.

In cats, we see a lot of bladder problems, ranging from cystitis to life-threatening blockage of the bladder outflow. If your cat has difficulty urinating or is repeatedly going to his litter tray it is important to seek urgent advice.

So what can we do to address this ‘expanding’ issue?

If you suspect your pet is getting a bit cuddly, most veterinary practices have weight-control clinics. At our practice they are free and run by nurses who assess the patient’s body condition score and often take photos and waist measurements. They can advise on healthy diet and exercise plans, and have regular follow-ups.

If it is difficult to make it into your practice, you should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs, and he/she should have an obvious waist.

Exercise is very important. All dogs should be walked daily, for at least 20 minutes. Cats are more difficult to exercise, especially if they lead sedentary, indoor lifestyles. We can feed them on prescription low-calorie diets and encourage them to move around by changing where they are fed. Play activity is great. Indoor climbing frames are popular and many cats will chase a light/laser pen when it is shone on a carpet/wall.

It can be hard work and frustrating to get your pet fit, but it will mean they have a longer, healthier life.