Obesity is not an epidemic that affects only humans, but also affects our pets to a large extent. In fact, the prevalence of canine obesity is between 22-50% and feline obesity is between 19-52%. As in our case, excess weight in dogs and cats can have negative repercussions for their long-term health, so avoiding obesity should be a priority for pet owners.
Obesity among dogs and cats is quite high but why are these figures so high?
In general, these figures are due to misguided habits on the part of pet owners, in most cases because they are unaware that they are feeding their pet inappropriately and because it is very difficult for pets to exercise if they do not leave the house.
Feeding time is often used as an expression of affection for dogs or cats. Carers think that they are making their friend happy by offering them what they like and in the quantity they demand, but what they unconsciously achieve in this way is to overfeed them and provoke a pathology as important as obesity.
Although there are other factors that favour overweight, such as age, breed, sterilisation and certain medications or illnesses, we must not forget that life, which is increasingly stressful and absorbed by work, means that our beloved pets have less time for exercise and play.
Too much food and not enough exercise
In other words, we feed our pets too much and they get too little exercise. The two combine in an incredibly negative way to cause them to lose their ideal weight, their health status and ultimately shorten their life expectancy. The risk of obesity is inversely proportional to the amount of exercise.
In the case of dogs, it is easier to organise games and take them out for walks or runs. For gluttonous dogs, there are slow-eating and interactive feeders that help them to eat more slowly, so that they feel more satiated and have a better digestion.
In the case of cats that go outdoors, they usually have no problem with food and know how to manage their food, but for indoor cats, caregivers should enrich the environment. This is achieved by having high places in the house where the cat can access and find a small food bowl or a toy of his liking. We need him to move and he will do so only if something motivates him. There are also interactive toys and food bowls for cats that entertain them a lot and force them to move around and eat more slowly. You can also motivate them to exercise by jumping up and down to catch a feather, a mouse or a ball with bells… They usually love it!
What are the health consequences of obesity for our pets?
There are diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, infertility, hyperlipidaemia, dermatological, renal and urinary diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer and intolerance to physical exercise and heat; not forgetting that the surgical and anaesthetic risks are greater if the dog or cat is overweight or obese at the time of surgery.
It is a pity to see, in very overweight cats, how they stop grooming themselves when they are unable to do so, something they like and need, as they are extremely clean. This is a very stressful situation for them. That is why we usually notice in these cats that their skin and fur no longer look so nice.
In dogs, even young dogs, we notice how their physical activity is reduced due to overweight, their breathing is really affected and their interaction with the family is much more passive.
What can we do to prevent obesity in our pets?
It is clear that if pet carers feed their pet correctly and exercise is part of their daily routine, these high numbers would be avoided. The basic recommendation is to turn to the vet. No one like them will be able to guide carers through the steps to follow in this task that requires awareness, dedication and patience. Not only is willingness on the part of the owners enough, but it is also important to have the appropriate advice and adequate follow-up by the professional, as each pet is as unique as its owner, so the professionals will adapt the advice, tests, diets, exercises, in each case in the most suitable way to both prevent and cure obesity.
How do we calculate the amount of food we feed our pets?
The amount of food we feed our pets should not be given at random or on demand. The quantities suggested by the manufacturer for the weight of the animal are indicated on the back of the feed bags or on the labels of wet food. However, not all feeds come with this diversity. The lower the range of the feed, the less variety we will have and therefore the suggestions on the bag will be very general.
In addition, there are industrial feeds that are made according to the size, age or physiological state of the pet. It is advisable to be guided by this table and provide the amount that corresponds to the ideal weight of the dog or cat, but… how do we know if our pet is at its optimum weight? For this, the vet is the best ally, he is the person we trust with the health of our beloved friend, who better than him to guide us? No one will be more objective
The important thing is to measure or weigh the daily amount of food that corresponds to the animal and to know that we must include in that amount 10% of kcal in treats, if they are given. In any case, it is always advisable to check the pet’s weight two or three times a year.
How many times a day should they eat?
Adult and senior dogs should eat two or three times a day. Although there are certain pathologies that require more and smaller daily intakes to facilitate digestion and metabolism.
If we are talking about puppies, we will have to adapt the number of feedings according to the number of days or months they are old. The younger they are, the more often they will need to eat.
In dogs, it is not advisable to leave the food for them to eat at will, except in the case of mothers who are breastfeeding their puppies. In this way it will also be affirmed who is the master and therefore who imposes the guidelines.
It is advisable for cats to always have food in their food bowls, they can become very stressed if this is not the case. Their natural habit is to eat at least twenty times a day, they have inherited this from their ancestors…feeding little by little and hunting small prey, that’s why they like it so much that their food is not so close at hand, they love to “hunt” … Their excellent sense of smell and instinct will allow them not to starve to death!
Is it better to give them food when they ask for it or with a fixed schedule and quantity?
Timetable and quantity, both are fundamental not only for their health, but also, as I said before, for their education.
In which cases should we give special formulas, lighter…?
With the quantity, variety and offer of food on the market, it is very easy not to be able to focus on what is best to feed our friend and what quality I am buying. If we are referring to special light formulas, we must differentiate them from hypocaloric formulas, which have even fewer kilocalories and are diets that must be prescribed by veterinarians.
If our pet does not exceed 15% of its ideal weight, we can give it a light diet in the amount indicated by the manufacturer for its optimum weight, not for the weight it has, otherwise we would keep it overweight. But if the percentage is higher, it would be advisable to give her a diet with fewer kilocalories, which usually has an increased amount of fibre and protein that produces more satiety.
It is clear that we will always want the best for our friends because they deserve it, but… What a great responsibility we have in our hands! Nothing more and nothing less than their health.