The surprising truth about pet obesity and how to keep your furry friends happy and healthy

Apr 24, 2024
By taking steps to ensure our furry companions maintain a healthy weight, we can promote not only their longevity but also their overall happiness and well-being. Source: Getty Images.

With our furry companions being cherished members of the family, it’s concerning to note that a significant percentage of Australian pets are dealing with weight issues.

Recent statistics from the Pet Food Industry Association Australia reveal a surprising truth: 41 per cent of dogs and 32 per cent of cats across the country are overweight, echoing global trends in pet health.

Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that 1 in 3 pet parents are oblivious to their furry friend’s weight issues. This lack of awareness isn’t just about vanity; it’s about understanding the profound impact excess weight can have on our pets’ well-being.

Dr. Jessica Mills, a Professional Consulting Veterinarian at Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia, sheds light on this growing concern.

“Changed perceptions of what a healthy weight for a pet is or what that looks like is partly to blame,” Mills said.

“If the majority of pets we meet on the streets and at the park are overweight, then this can become ‘normalised’ regardless of where that sits on the scale of health and wellbeing.”

Recognising the signs of pet obesity is the first step toward addressing the issue. With that in mind, Dr. Mills provides some easy tips for concerned pet owners

“You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs through their fur and your cat or dog should not have a sagging tummy,” she explained.

“The team at your local veterinary clinic are a great place to get advice if you are concerned that your pet might be overweight.”

But why is pet obesity such a pressing concern? Dr. Mills explains, “Being overweight causes a state of chronic inflammation that can lead to the development of many preventable diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and respiratory conditions, and can shorten a pet’s life expectancy by up to 2 years.”

To address this concerning trend, veterinarians have provided the following expert guidance on effectively managing your pet’s weight to promote their overall health and well-being:

Know your starting point: A healthy weight can vary between breeds and species, and you need to know what’s ideal for your pet type. Typically, you should weigh your dog or cat in kilos and keep this figure in your pet’s health file as a clear starting point.

Calculate exact calories: You need to know how many calories your dog or cat requires in order to maintain a healthy balance; consider age, weight, activity level and breed type amongst other things. Feeding guides on food packages are just that, a guide. Your pet’s feeding amount may need to be adjusted to support their individual requirements. The team at your local veterinary clinic will be able to help determine your pet’s ideal body weight and energy requirements.

Provide a good quality diet: A nutritious diet can make a huge difference in your pet’s lifelong health and happiness. Nutrition not only impacts your pets’ weight but also contributes to healthy digestion, strong bones, and a beautiful coat. Precisely balanced nutrition is key to any pet’s weight management journey.

Make sure you measure meals: Many pet owners simply ‘guestimate’ when it comes to feeding their dogs and cats the right amount. Weighing out your pet’s food is the most accurate way to measure their daily intake, and using the measuring cup provided by the manufacturer can also keep you on the right track. The feeding guide on the pack will provide you with a good starting point. Alternatively, your veterinary health care team or manufacturer’s helpline can help you determine the ideal amount to be feeding your pet.

Try to switch out ‘treats’: Don’t feed table scraps to your pet, especially if they are trying to lose weight. It might seem like a little ‘here and there’ but for some pets, it can be the equivalent of a whole meal. In human calorie terms, 28 g of cheddar cheese is the equivalent of 1.5 burgers for your 9 kg dog or 3.5 burgers for your 4.5 kg cat! Instead, get into the habit of rewarding good behaviour with fun, not with food. Pay your pet extra attention and affection with more cuddles, walks or playtime.

Use food as a way to nourish the body and mind: Many pets will overeat when they are bored. Puzzle feeders or treat balls can be used to help keep your pet mentally active and slow down their eating habits by making them work for their food.

Prioritise an exercise plan:

For Dogs: Look at simple ways to increase their exercise. Maybe it’s possible to add a couple of extra walks a week or increase the length of your daily walk. Try to change the route so they are exercising more intensely – going up hills or stairs are great to burn calories. Another great option is to find games they like such as fetch so that you both enjoy these daily exercise sessions.

For Cats: Simple games such as “hunting” the light can encourage them to move more. Simply shine a torch on the floor and walls and the natural movement will encourage your pet to chase it. For cats that love their food, puzzle feeders and dividing the meal around the house can encourage more movement whilst they eat – in fact you can actually teach your cat to hunt for their food by hiding it around the house.

Make it a family affair: Ensure that everyone involved in your pets care is aware of all changes to diet, exercise or health regime. That way it will be a lot easier to stick to their required plan and you will be more likely to stay on track as everyone can join together, to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Know what’s normal: It is important to have a base understanding of what is normal when it comes to the weight and size of your pet, just like you would do with your own body. Make sure you are regularly performing health checks and you know signs to look out for. Unexpected or sudden weight loss or weight gain could be an indicator of underlying disease and a good reason to check in with your vet.

Take it slow: At the end of the day, healthy weight management for your cat or dog is a lifestyle change. Remember there is no quick fix and that nothing happens overnight. But by looking at the diet and exercise regime of your pets, you can help keep them healthy and happy for many years to come.

By taking steps to ensure our furry companions maintain a healthy weight, we can promote not only their longevity but also their overall happiness and well-being. After all, a healthier pet means more joyful moments and cherished memories for years to come.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified pet healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s weight, diet, or overall health.

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