It may be a consequence of our affection for our pets but obesity is the most common form of malnutrition we see at the London Veterinary Clinic. Around one in three of all pets, especially indoor cats is either overweight or clinically obese. Our modern urban lifestyle is not what pets were made for. For most of our pets, life is tedious and dull. For many of them just about the most exciting event each day is feeding time. Deep down, most of us know this. We know we aren’t providing our pets with the type of physical exercise they really need. Obesity leads to increased pain in older age and shortens life expectancy. It’s the most common factor in diabetes in middle aged cats. And it’s avoidable because it’s caused by us.
Exercise And Weight
Of course, it’s no different with pets than it is with us. Consume more calories than you burn up in exercise each day and the excess energy gets converted to fat and stored for the day you find yourself on an Arctic ice flow with nothing to eat. We increase our pet’s already excellent ability to conserve energy by neutering them. When a pet is neutered, the metabolic rate decreases by about 20 per cent so neutered pets require less food. In particular, neutering reduces the cat’s desire to roam so the amount of daily physical activity declines. Living indoors makes things even worse for them. With restricted opportunities for exercise, pets use up even less energy, so they gain weight. It’s no surprise that pets under 2 years of age are less likely to be overweight than pets between 2 and 10 years. Inexplicably, some purebreds, for example Siamese cats, Toy and Miniature Poodles are somehow less likely to develop obesity than other breeds such as Labradors, Beagles and moggies.
How We Assess Your Pet’S Body Score
We use a scale called the Body Condition Score or BCS to assess whether a pet is overweight or obese. You can too. BCS grades your pet’s body from 1-5. We rarely see pets with scores ‘1’ or ‘2’.
- Ribs showing, no fat cover
- Severe abdominal tuck
- Bones at base of tail obvious with nothing between skin and bone.
- No fat palpable in the abdomen
2 - THIN
- Ribs easily felt with minimal fat cover
- Waist very obvious behind ribs
- Bones at base of tail raised with only minimal tissue between skin and bone.
- Minimal abdominal fat
3 - IDEAL
- Ribs palpable through slight fat cover
- Waist visible behind ribs
- Bones at base of tail covered in a thin layer of fat
- Minimal abdominal fat
4 – OVERWEIGHT
- Waist hardly discernible
- Moderate abdominal fat
- Hip bones can be felt but covered by moderate layer of fat
- Ribs not easily felt
5 - OBESE
- Ribs disappeared under thick fat cover
- No waist, distended abdomen
- Bones at base of tail difficult to feel through fat
- Extensive abdominal fat
As well as assessing your pet’s BCS, weigh it routinely. If your pet is gaining weight or weighs more than we suggest is healthy it needs a calorie controlled diet.
Watch The Diet
Obesity increases the risks of skin disease, lower urinary tract disease, arthritis and sugar diabetes. ‘Reducing’ diets high in protein, low in fat and low in carbohydrate helps pets to lose fat while maintaining good muscle mass. When using any diet, aim for a gradual decrease in bodyweight, up to a year for a very obese pet to reach its ideal body condition. Too fast a weight loss can cause severe liver disease. If your pet is overweight or obese please book an appointment with Ashley McManus RVN, our Nutrition Nurse. Ashley will devise a diet plan for you and your pet.
Keep Records And Take Pictures
All of us take pictures of our pets. Intentionally take side and top photos in the same location and compare your pet’s present size with previous images. This is not as accurate as routine weighing but it is very useful to have a colour target of the condition you want your pet to return to.
With dogs in particular, keep a record of exactly what your dog eats, including all the little extras. This makes you more conscious of all the add-ons it’s given. Cut out the extras but if this isn’t possible (especially if there’s a weak link in your home) replace them with bits of fruit and vegetable. Feed low fat, good quality carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates such as barley and sorghum in the diet lead to a more gradual energy release into the blood stream than other carbohydrates such as rice. Nonfermentable fibres such as wheat bran or cellulose are added to “light” diets for overweight or inactive dogs or to breed-specific diets for breeds such as Labrador Retrievers that are prone to obesity. Nonfermentable fibres contribute virtually no calories.
Sugar in the blood stream affects the “satiety” centre in the brain, calming down the desire to eat. Of course, increase your pet’s exercise. This might accelerate its basic metabolic rate but it’s a guaranteed way not just for your pet to lose weight but also to get more physically fit. And avoid crash diets. They upset your pet and only drive her metabolism to be more efficient and fat-storing in the future. In cats, a crash diet can lead to serious liver problems. You may need help sticking to a healthy diet as much as your pet does. If for example you’re being laser-beamed by your Labrador’s mournfully melting brown eyes, discuss the problem with the veterinary nurses. In these circumstances they make fine, understanding and tough counsellors. If you have a dog, feel free to drop by any time, certainly every two to three weeks to weigh him or her on the reception room scales.