Obesity has become as big a problem for pets as it is for people. South African vets say that more than half the patients they treat are overweight and this mirrors the situation in the US and Europe. Globally, obesity has become the number one health issue facing cats and dogs today.
According to the experts, chubby is not cute. By overfeeding you are potentially killing your pet with kindness. Research has clearly shown that overweight pets have shorter lives and are at higher risk of diseases like arthritis, urinary conditions, skin problems, heart disease and even cancer. Added to that is an increased risk of anaesthetic and surgical complications. A 2012 study demonstrated that fat dogs are not jolly; they experience more pain and “emotional disturbances”.
“Excess weight puts pressure on the joints and we see a lot of hip, back and knee problems,” says Sister Norma Boshoff, who runs a successful weight management clinic at Tygerberg Animal Hospital in Cape Town. “Many of our patients end up on chronic medication for pain as a result of being overweight.”
“Obesity in pets is a human disease, in that it is usually caused by the people who love them most,” says Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor to Hill’s Pet Nutrition South Africa. “It’s simply a case of too much energy in, i.e. food, and too little energy out i.e. exercise and a slow metabolism.”
How can you tell if your pet is overweight? In one study, nine out of ten pet parents mistakenly identified their pet’s weight as normal, when it actually weighed more than was healthy. “People don’t know what a pet at a healthy weight looks like anymore,” says Dr Fyvie.
“My husband used to say Eddie was fat, but I said “no, he’s just cuddly,” admits Hanlie Joubert from Cape Town, whose Beagle was clinically obese when he joined the Pet Slimmer programme at Tygerberg Animal Hospital. “I simply fed him what he wanted and didn’t think about the health implications at all.”
A pet at its optimum weight should have a visible waistline and you should be able to feel the ribs when you gently stroke along its side. If you can’t feel the ribs, friends have joked that your pet is getting chubby, or you have noticed signs like lagging behind on walks, it is worth going to your vet for a weigh-in.
“It’s hard to be objective about those we love,” says Dr Fyvie. “When you see your pet every day, gradual changes may not be that evident. It’s advisable to seek a professional opinion.”
October is national Pet Obesity Month and many vets around the country will be offering free weight assessments. Rather than putting your pet at the risk of obesity-related diseases, love them enough to take them for a quick weigh-in – ask your vet, or find a participating #PetObesityMonth practice on www.PetSlimmer.co.za.
“Giving your pet a treat does not equal love or attention, it’s just something to eat,” says Sister Boshoff. “It’s better to play ball, take them for a walk, or give them a kiss or a cuddle. They thrive with this kind of positive reinforcement.”