Is My Pet Overweight?
Is my pet overweight?
Unfortunately, obesity in pet animals is a growing threat. We see overweight and obese pets on a daily basis, and it seems that it is becoming ‘the norm’. People no longer see these pets as overweight because there are so many portly pets that our eyes get used to them. It is also difficult to notice the subtle gradual changes over time when you see your pet every day – we all know that grandparents will say ‘haven’t you grown’ after just a couple of months without seeing you, when your parents hardly notice it happen until your trousers are suddenly up around your kneecaps!
Obesity is a serious threat to our pets’ health – it can contribute to problems like early arthritis, heart disease, breathing difficulties, diabetes, and many others. Added to this, your pet will not be able to enjoy exercise as much as they should.
There are plenty of charts out there to tell you that a Labrador should be this many kilos, and a domestic shorthair cat (normal moggy) should be that many. This is a bit misleading in many cases – there are short working Labradors who ought to weigh no more than 20kg, and there are much taller show Labradors that can be 30 or 35kg without being overweight. As you can see, using a chart could make you think that your little lab is fine, when actually she may be one and a half times the size she should be.
The best way we have found to decide if a pet is overweight is called the Body Condition Score (BCS). This looks at the shape of your cat or dog, rather than the weight. The scale we use is 1-9, with 1 being severely emaciated (far too thin), and 9 being morbidly obese. The normal size for any cat or dog should be 5. It is worth knowing that some vets and websites may use a 1-5 scale where 3 is normal so we would often say 5/9 (5 out of 9) to make it clear which scale we use.
A normal BCS means that you can feel the ribs clearly when you rub your flat hands over them. The animal should have a waist when seen from above, and the tummy should tuck upwards towards the back when seen from the sides. It is not so easy to describe here as it is to show you practically, so if you would like a better demonstration and to see what BCS your pet has, please come and see us.
A common complaint we get from owners when we discuss an overweight pet is that ‘he doesn’t eat very much’. It is important to remember that we can be 10 or 20 times as big as some of our pets, so we need to feed accordingly. What looks like a small amount to us can be actually quite a large amount for our pets. The other thing to consider is that all our pets are individuals. We know that with people, there are some who can eat junk food every day and stay slim, and some who only need to sniff a cheese sandwich to go up a dress size. The same applies for our pets, so what may be OK for one will be too much for another. You need to let go of the idea of how much food it looks like on the plate, and instead look at how much it looks like on your pet. If your pet is overweight, then it is eating too much.
A common mistake people make with their pets’ diets is to over feed treats. It is perfectly acceptable to give your pet a small amount of meat or a chew every now and then, but it must be in balance with the rest of the diet. Remember that we can be 10 or 20 times as big as some of our pets. While a sausage may look like a treat to us, to your Yorkie it can contain a whole day’s worth of calories, and even to a Labrador it may be the equivalent of a big Sunday dinner. The human food that tends to be given as treats is often high in calories, fat, sugar, or salt, so are not good for your pet in terms of keeping a balanced diet. Even when using dog or cat treats, they are often tasty because of high fat or sugar levels and so should be given only occasionally.
A good tip for treats is to use your dog or cat’s normal food – take a bit out of the amount they would normally have for their dinner and use that. Another way to do it is to use things like raw carrot, which is good to chew and much lower in calories. Dental chews or joint chews can be a good way to help your pet’s health, but you must reduce their dinner to balance that.
Rabbits and other small and exotic pets are also at risk of obesity – you must be careful to feed an appropriate diet in the right amounts. These animals are quite different from cats and dogs, and have very different feeding needs. If you are in any doubt, come and talk to us.
If you have any concerns about your pet’s waistline, or if you would like more help to keep your pet in tip top shape, come and see us. Kate’s Weight Clinic is a free service run by our receptionist Kate to help you with your pet’s nutrition and weight.