WORDS: Charlotte Long
The world’s waistline is expanding, and just as health experts worry about the obesity epidemic in humans, our pets are tipping the scales like never before.
The PDSA estimates that one in three dogs, one in four cats and one in four rabbits in the UK are overweight. Furthermore, 80% of vets have reported an increase of obesity in pets in the past 3 years - from dogs, cats and rabbits to even small rodents coming in for treatment due to being overweight.
“Vets are dealing with a pet obesity epidemic in the UK and being overweight or obese is a recognised risk factor for developing diabetes. A BVA survey identified obesity as the number one animal welfare issue that concerned all vets, with 64% of companion animal vets stating obesity and overfeeding as their top concern,” says Gudrun Ravetz, Junior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association.
RSPCA senior scientific officer and dog welfare expert, Lisa Richards, believes that this is cause for concern, "Recent studies have suggested that around half of all pet dogs are overweight, and this can cause serious health and welfare issues for our dogs, such as heart disease and diabetes. Being obese can reduce the length and quality of our dogs' lives.”
With animal obesity becoming more and more prevalent, pet manufacturers are producing a wider range of diet foods, treatments and information to help fight the fat.
Naturediet began manufacturing healthy dog food when they saw more and more owners were taking a more holistic approach towards feeding their pets.
“The largest growth area in the pet food industry is “natural”. This is an effect trickling through to the UK from the US, which over the past two years has had numerous cases of multiple dog deaths from large manufacturers”, says Carol Orrow, CEO of Naturediet.
“For example, the Chinese put melamine into dog food ingredients to inflate protein levels, which can cause death in dogs. Wheat inclusion can also cause multiple deaths as it contains aflatoxin, a mould on wheat that is poisonous to dogs.
“There is an upsurge in feeding of raw food and this can be attributed to owners wanting to know exactly what they feed their dog, as packaging can be misleading,” Carol continues.
Healthier pet food does not have to break the bank either – Naturediet sells at a recommended retail price of £1.09 for 390g or twin packs of 140g for £1.05.
“People should not feel pressured into buying expensive dog food if they can’t afford it. There are suitable pet foods available to suit all budgets - we recommend speaking to a vet for more information on what would be most appropriate for the dog and owner’s wallet,” continues Gudrun.
Many people are quite oblivious to the ramifications of having an overweight dog, and it’s good to be equipped with the knowledge to advise owners on why to invest in certain healthier foods or exercise ideas.
Research shows a dog’s median life span could be extended by 15%, or nearly 2 years, by feeding to the ideal body condition through diet restriction.
“A number of factors have been identified that can further increase the risk of obesity for cats and dogs. Such factors include a pet’s genetic make-up – some breeds have been found to have a high risk of developing obesity, for example Labrador retrievers and King Charles Spaniels. Other factors are, an increasingly sedentary life style, age, neutering/spaying and owner habits. Over-feeding is the single most important factor in pet obesity and many pets are simply being fed too much,” says Nicola Paley from the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers Association).
As a guide, you should be able to see and feel the outline of a pet’s ribs without excess fat covering. Their waist should be clearly visible when viewed form above and their belly should be tucked up when viewed from the side.
The amount of portly pets is expected to transcend healthy cats, dogs and rabbits within the next four years, a sure sign the ‘weight management’ and ‘light’ products will be increasing in demand.
Royal Canin have an extensive range of science-based food for overweight cats and dogs. Based on size, age, lifestyle, and breed, each cat or dog they cater for each animal’s nutritional needs.
“ROYAL CANIN Satiety has been designed to support safe weight loss in cats and dogs that are overweight or obese. It contains a special blend of fibres that have a satietogenic effect on dogs, making them feel fuller for longer. A high protein content that helps maintain muscle mass during weight loss and this diet is enriched with nutrients to compensate for the effect of energy restriction during weight loss. In addition there are bone and joint health nutrients to support healthy bones and joints that are placed under stress by excess body weight,” says a spokesperson from the weight management specialist team.
Toys for playing can also be a good recommendation for owners who are looking for more ways to get their pet moving. “Think toys not treats – toys that a dog can play with and get fun exercise from can get that tail wagging as energetically as treats can,” advises Gudrun.
Compared to our 9,000 taste buds, dogs only have 1,700, meaning they don’t crave variety like we do. Owners should therefore rest assured that they are not putting their pet through the mental torture that we go through when we cut out carbs, chocolate and other unhealthy snacks (and the word ‘torture’ is not used lightly!).
“Many owners show love for their pet through food, but often this is a case of killing with kindness: as well as reducing a pet’s enjoyment of life, and increasing the risk of linked diseases such as diabetes and arthritis, obese animals also have a reduced life expectancy,” says Gudrun.
As with any illness, prevention is better than a cure and it’s time to pull the plug on the porky pet problem.