Is obesity a dirty word for our pets?

In 2016, the British Veterinary Association surveyed over 1600 UK vets, asking them which disease was their biggest concern affecting the welfare of our pets. Overwhelmingly, almost 2/3rds of vets answered with the same answer. What is our biggest concern? The answer is obesity.

As with humans, obesity is a very serious health issue for pets, a disease and can lead to life-long and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes and arthritis, to name a few. Not following or understanding pet food feeding guidelines, providing too many treats and snacks, and a lack of exercise are all issues contributing to the expanding paunches of our nation’s pets.

Although many people believe they are being kind to their animals by providing treats and bigger food portions, they are instead, unintentionally, contributing to their pet’s poor health and limiting their lifespan. Many owners also give their pets human food as a treat, however one human biscuit can equate to a whole packet when fed to an animal due to their smaller body size. The effect of this, can be fatal; ‘killing with kindness’.

Between June 2016 and October 2017, dog owners attending seven different family pet shows in five UK locations (Berkshire, Cheshire, Hertfordshire, Kent and Manchester) consented to their dog having a body condition score assessment by a team of experienced veterinary nurses. Data from 1100 adult (≥24 months) and 516 juvenile (<24 months) dogs were available for analysis. In adult dogs, 715 (65 per cent) were overweight (body condition score of 6/9 to 9/9).  Almost 10% of these classed as obese (body condition score of 8/9 or 9/9). Most concerning was the prevalence of obesity in the juvenile dogs examined, where 190 (37 per cent) and 16 (3 per cent) were classified as overweight and obese, respectively. Further, this trend increased during the growth phase of the dog, a cruciate time in joint development.

So, what can we do?

Firstly, take the advice of your vet. Vets aren’t being insulting or rude, they are making a clinical observation, the goal is always to help.

We offer free weight clinics to help, guide and monitor safe weight loss. We supply a nutritionally-complete, prescription diet aimed at aiding weight loss whilst still allowing our pet to feel full and satiated. We can look at your current food with you and ensure we are feeding absolutely correctly. We can teach you to how to recognize a healthy body shape. All things we are professionally trained to do, we can help!

Instead of a treat, try playing a game with your pet, take dogs for a walk, interacting with food or toys will increase their activity is a way which will only add to your bond together.

It is so important that we work together, vet and pet owner, to help animals stay healthy. All companion animals deserve a nutritionally balanced diet; in fact, it is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Acts. Of course, it is tempting to give too many treats and easy to forget to weigh food out, but because obesity can cause serious health and welfare problems for our pets, it is our job as owners to care about this enough to improve their lives, as well as their health.

Article by Rachel Phillips    MRCVS