The pet population often mimics our world. As obesity numbers rise in humans, they do the same with companion animals. According to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the number of pets overweight or obese is rising. In 2020, 50-60 per cent of Canadian pets were overweight, and 75 per cent of owners are concerned when seeing an obese pet.
Those are eye-opening numbers. Obesity in animals can lead to frequent injuries, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and various forms of cancer, among several others. Obesity ultimately shortens their lives.
But there are ways to battle that obesity trend and begin a journey to better wellness for our furry friends. Many pet owners would likely believe that more exercise is the immediate solution to a weight problem. After all, when humans gain pounds, their first thought is to burn them off through hard physical work. Exercise is certainly important, but it’s not the most obvious answer to a trimmer animal.
“Overfeeding is a bigger factor than exercising,” says Woodbine Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr. Jessica Scott on why animals are becoming increasingly overweight. “People generally exercise their pets as much as their lifestyles and schedules allow, which can fluctuate.
“When I tell people their pet is overweight, the natural reaction is to say they will try and exercise them more. But because that will always be inconsistent, the better place to focus on is the daily feeding amount.
“That can be very consistent and will help with losing or controlling weight more than trying to increase exercise.”
It’s simple – providing a restricted and reasonable amount of food will keep your animals healthier.
Feeding your pet too much will lead to an overweight animal. That’s a fact. Pet owners might not know it, but they already have the tools to give their friends a healthy, proper amount of food. The information is actually clear as day and literally at their fingertips. All you have to do is read the label on your pet’s food bag or can.
“That’s where you start,” says Dr. Anna Shoveller, a companion animal nutrition professor in the University of Guelph’s Animal Biosciences department. “If your dog or cat is gaining weight, you need to reduce that amount of food.”
Dr. Shoveller knows there are many factors that go into finding the right diet for your particular pet. The animal’s general health, age, activity level, and even breed all play a role. For example, if your senior dog is relatively sedentary, they won’t require as much food as a young Border Collie getting hours of exercise.
“I tell people when they’re starting a new food, feed to the recommended guidelines on the side of the bag for a few weeks and monitor whether your pet has gained or lost weight,” she says. “If you don’t have a scale, it’s easy – you can take some measurements, like doing an abdominal circumference.
“If they’re gaining weight, reduce the food. But if the amount of food needed for your dog to lose weight is below the lowest recommendation, then see your vet for information about weight-loss diets.”
1) Use that label – the food product itself is a great resource to guide the amount of food your pet can start with.
2) Don’t’ overdo it with snacks – we love rewarding our pets with treats but too many can add unnecessary calories to their diet. Consider introducing fruits and vegetables into their routine, like apple slices (no core), cucumbers, and carrots, which are both chewy and mostly comprised of water.
3) Fun with food puzzles – using a Kong or a puzzle can help a pet slow down their food intake, while also giving their brain a good workout. Eg. http://foodpuzzlesforcats.com/ (has a few tips for dogs too)
4) Scrap the table scraps – you might think feeding your dog from your own plate is kind. It’s not.
5) Surf for info – There are great resources online to help pet owners determine if their loved ones are at a healthy weight. Many pet food companies and animal associations have body score charts available. Click here for an example.
While responsible feeding is your best bet in tackling your pet’s weight problem, activity can be part of a healthy routine, too. Exercise helps animals increase their cardiovascular fitness, mobility support, and muscle/bone strength. It also plays an important role in improving their body’s ability to utilize nutrients, enabling them to be the healthiest version of themselves. Pet exercise might not always fit into your schedule, but it’s important to incorporate it when you can.
In dogs, moderate exercise (not exhaustive activity that may lead to injury) doesn’t just play a part in maintaining a good weight, it also has an extraordinary impact on behaviour, mental health, and overall well-being.
“Exercising dogs to the point of tiring them should result in less energy to perform undesirable behaviours, like excessive barking, digging, destructive chewing, and repetitive jumping or chewing,” says Dr. Candace Croney, an animal behaviour professor and the Director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
“Other benefits that people may not think about is that exercise gives dogs the opportunity to relieve boredom and to engage socially with both people and other dogs. This helps them practice social skills.”
It’s clear that exercise has more far-reaching effects than keeping your pet’s waistline in check.
Cool Exercise Ideas
1) Use your stairs – create a game where your dog needs to run up and down the stairs (assuming they’re healthy enough to do so), like fetching a tennis ball. But be careful. Try putting a piece of their food on the top and bottom stairs, so there is more control.
2) Toys and lasers – some cats love to wrestle with toys or take big swipes at something hanging from a wand. Then there are lasers. Hours of fun for both the animal and the owner.
3) Agility courses – designing your own agility course is not as hard as you might think. Check this Pinterest page for ideas.
4) Try something different – have you ever heard of skijoring? File that one for next winter.
Between a regimented feeding approach and exercise (when possible), you can help your beloved pet maintain a healthy weight. That means more years for you to enjoy each other’s company.
If you’re concerned with your pet’s weight, visit https://petobesityprevention.org/ for helpful information.