'Loving' our animals too much!
26 March 2017

How healthy is your pet? My veterinary colleagues are increasingly concerned about the increasing girth of their clients. Dogs, cats, even rabbits and hamsters are starting to show the effects of too much “love” by their owners. Several of years ago I was asked by a new campaign group, the Pet Obesity Task Force, to help them set up their organisation to campaign for public awareness, and action, on pet obesity. It seems overweight pets is the largest pet health concern across Europe. So, I rapidly had to develop an understanding of how, and why, pets became overweight.

Even defining overweight in your pet dog is difficult. The vets define it as when the amount of body fat starts to make it hard to feel the dog’s ribs, affects its ability to walk, or its breathing. So, the next time you cuddle your dog or cat you might want to make sure its ribs are still easy to feel. But how can a dog, or any pet become overweight. Thinking of dogs in particular, in their natural world they would roam the forest for hours on end just trying to find something to eat, if they were lucky. Then, when they did spot something, intense physical activity through hunting and chasing would follow. After some time spent eating their prey they would rest and sleep, only for the whole process to recur the following day. Now think of a modern pet dog. He lies around most of the day, maybe a half hour walk if he’s lucky in the evening, and dinner is served literally on a plate, often several times a day. Instead of a 6 hour trek to hunt, it’s a six foot plod to the feeding bowl, food guzzled in a few seconds, then it’s back to sleeping for the rest of the day. Till the next meal, at least.

This very sedentary lifestyle, and energy dense diet, rounded off with frequent treats from loving owners means the vast majority of domestic pets are overweight. And the reason why it occurs is because owners, with the best of intentions, “humanise” them, and attribute human behaviours and needs to them. But, just like in humans, an overweight pet is more prone to heart disease, diabetes, mobility problems and a shorter life expectancy.

Now, if you have an overweight pet, the only way to deal with it is by reducing their food intake and increasing their energy expenditure. It might be hard, but it is necessary. Just one more thing to bear in mind. My vet colleagues also told me that overweight pets are more often than not brought in to the clinic by…….overweight owners. Time to feel for your own ribs? Walking the dog every day might have even more benefit than you anticipated. And they’ll love you all the more for it!