Are we killing our pets with kindness?

Obesity in our pets is becoming more prevalent, with recent figures estimating that over 50% of the nation’s pets are classed as overweight or obese.

In companion animals’ obesity has been linked to adverse health and welfare. Whilst owners will not necessarily notice gradual weight gain, groomers and veterinary professionals will often pick up on the few extra pounds that your pet is carrying. Vets are now seeing and diagnosing more obesity related conditions such as;

  • Diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Urinary stones
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Pancreatitis

Your pets breed, genetics, age, sex, diet and lifestyle all play a part in determining the likelihood of your pet becoming obese. So, how can we at home tell if our pets are carrying excess weight;

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a handy tool that can be used by both owner and veterinarian to assess the nutritional status of our pets. The scoring system runs from 1 through to 9 and evaluates the fat coverage of your dog or cat.

  • BCS 1 to 2 – Severely underweight and malnourished
    BCS 2-3 – Underweight
    BCS 4-5 – Ideal
    BCS 6-7 – Overweight
    BCS 7-8 – Obese
    BCS 9 – Severely overweight

It is generally said that every number over 5 equates to your pet carrying and extra 10% of the weight they should. So a BCS of 9 equates to carrying 40% extra weight!

Figure 1; Royal Canine Body Conditioning scoring system and explanation for Canine and Felines

General rules of thumb to follow when using this system include:

Dogs;

  • You should be able to feel the outline of your dogs’ ribs using gentle pressure
  • You should be able to see and feel your dog’s waist and it should be clearly visible when viewed from above
  • When viewed from the side your pet should have an abdominal tuck

Cats;

  • You should be able to feel the cat’s ribs and hip bones with gentle pressure
  • Your cat’s waist should be visible from above
  • Your cats’ stomach should not sag underneath them, and they should only carry a small amount of belly fat

Obesity can affect any pet at any stage of life but aforementioned there are a number of groups that are at an increased risk, so how can we prevent obesity?

Much alike us our pets require a certain amount of food to allow them to function and perform, however, this energy requirement is dependent upon your pet’s activity levels and job, therefore each pet must be treated as an individual.

Feeding a high-quality pet food tailored to your pets age and neutering status can help you to accurately manage your pet’s calorific intake. All pet food manufacturers carefully calculate the portion rations for their individual foods that are often printed onto food packaging. It may take a little adjustment to get it just right for your pet, but it is of upmost importance to weigh your pet’s food at every meal to ensure they are getting the correct portion.

When calculating the amount to feed your pet you must account for any extras that you may give the in the day, such as treats used for training purposes or leftovers that you may provide them after dinner!

If you are concerned that your pet is overweight, it is recommended to visit your veterinary surgery. Many surgeries will provide a “weight watchers” type clinic. During these appointments, usually with Registered Veterinary Nurses, your pet will be weighed, and condition scored. The nurse may also ask further questions about your dog or cats activity levels and age and may also ask you to write a food diary for your pet so they can ascertain exactly what is being fed.

From the information you provide they will formulate a personalised plan for your pet, which may include an adjustment in the amount and regularity of feeding, an increased exercise plan and potentially the suggestion to swap to a prescription diet food. These diet foods will generally be rich in protein and fibre but low in fat, making your pet feel fuller for longer.