A study published in The Scientist magazine reveals that it’s not only humans who are getting larger, so too are animals. In the past few decades the number of overweight adults in the UK has doubled; two thirds of us are carrying excess weight. But the number of overweight animals has also increased, and includes animals in captivity such as chimps, and mice. But it also includes household pets, including cats, dogs and even rabbits! The authors suggest that it isn’t just down to diet and exercise, which in the case of captive animals they say hasn’t changed over the same period. But it might be the reason our household pets have become overweight.
A few years ago I was asked to be an advisor to the Pet Obesity Task Force, an organisation set up by the nation’s vets, increasingly concerned about the ever increasing size of their clients. My vet colleagues explained why. We treat our pets like humans. We assume they have human emotions and needs. We reward them with food, and quite literally give it to them on a plate. They don’t have to work for it, and so are less active. If you think about it, a dog, in the wild might spend 6 hours running, hunting, and scavenging for food and several hours eating their one meal of the day. Pet dogs however often have several meals each day (like their owners), and have to walk only a few feet to “scavenge” it from the food-bowl in seconds, only to then lie down for several hours till their next meal. The result? More energy in, and less energy out. Now, it’s often said that our pets grow to look like their owners. Or maybe we owners grow to look like our pets? The message for us is simple. In an age of relative plenty, when we can find food with little effort and consume it within minutes, we need to make sure we find ways of controlling how much we eat, and ways in which we can burn off all that extra energy.
My vet colleagues on the Pet Obesity Task Force developed tips for owners who wanted to help their pets lose weight. If you have a dog, or a cat, and you can’t easily feel their ribs, maybe they’re overweight. Start controlling their food portions and walking them a lot more. Less treats between meals, and more exercise. Sound familiar?