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«Feeding and Weight Management This is a thorny issue for not only our pets but us too. There is a trend towards weight increase and obesity in the ...»

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Feeding and Weight Management

This is a thorny issue for not only our pets but us too.

There is a trend towards weight increase and obesity in the

human population and this trend is being mirrored in our

pet populations too. Dogs, cats and rabbits are all

struggling with too much food on offer and often not

enough exercise. We often find it difficult to control our

own intake of food and similarly find it hard to limit what

we give our pets. We however, are the ones in total control of the food cupboard and weekly shop and dogs can generally only eat what they have been given. Were pets are becoming obese their health and welfare is compromised and as a pet owner and as a vet we must do all we can to guard our pets health and wellbeing.

Hidden problem Many people don’t realise that their pet is overweight. This is a big hurdle to get over as unless you recognize that there is a problem you are unlikely to try and tackle it.

Weight issues tend to creep up on you and because weight builds slowly it is easy not to notice.

Try and be objective and look at your pets shape and size. We all see lots of other pets and it is good to compare.

Listen to what friends, family and passing dog walkers who see your pet say to you.

Finally, ask us. We will always offer an opinion (sometimes unasked for!) about your pet’s weight. We will be happy to call in and weigh your pet and look at its overall condition and let you know what we think.

If your pet is overweight then the next step is to do something about it.

Health problems resulting from obesity Obesity leads to a worsening of some of the most common old age health issues that

face our pets:

• Arthritis

• Heart disease

• Chronic bronchitis and respiratory diseases These are all made much, much worse when pets carry too much weight. It can in many cases lead to shortening of their lives and a poorer quality of life while they are alive.

Obesity can make your pet more prone to certain serous health issues

• Diabetes – a serious disease that in dogs and cats that usually requires you to give them lifelong insulin injections.

• Pancreatitis – a sometimes life threatening disease that can cause vomiting, severe illness and in the long term diabetes.

• Arthritis - excessive strain on joints over many years makes arthritis more likely and also makes it worse when it does appear Causes of obesity

• Overfeeding

• Giving food as an expression of love and affection.

• Lack of exercise

• Overriding a naturally small appetite in some dogs by offering too much food too frequently or tempting with ‘nice’ things.

• Competition. Again, some pets have naturally picky appetites but eat more because there is another pet in the same room or next to them. Give pets ‘room’ to eat at their own pace and in their own space.

• Encouraging overeating. If your pet doesn’t want all his food or walks away and leaves some. Take the food away – he has had enough. Don’t call him back or leave it for him to snack on later.

• Leaving other pets food down. Lots of people with cats and dogs may give their dogs set meals but leave down cat food that the dogs pinch when they can. Food should not be left down for cats all the time but if you need to then lift food off the floor and put it somewhere where the dogs can’t get at it.

• Scavenging. If your pet raids the bins or gets up to the work surfaces then either train your dog not to or don’t leave things out or bins where they can be got at.

• Feeding when pets need attention. Dogs pester you when you are in the kitchen and know food is available. You do not need to feed your dog in these situations. Find something else to do with it. Play with it, groom it or even put it out.

• Being fed elsewhere. If it is being well fed elsewhere then don’t give it a full quota of food at home. Some pets are regularly looked after by other people and can be spoilt. Again, ask them not to but if they don’t listen and you know your dog has been well fed already then don’t feed it again when it gets home. Miss food out that day and let your dog just get what it gets at ‘Granny’s’

• Neutering. Neutering your pet can make them more liable to gain weight.

Reduce food intake when your pet is neutered – especially if it is already slightly heavy. Reweigh your pet regularly for the 3-9 months after it has been neutered and adjust food intake accordingly.

Natural feeding habits.

Dogs are hunters and scavengers. They can be always on the look out for food as in the wild they often don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. Again, leaving food down for them to help themselves can often lead to steady weight increase.

There are family pets that don’t fit into these patterns. There are pets who have a constantly topped up food bowl always down in the kitchen and there are some who have a set amount put down every day and that ‘total for the day’ is left in the bowl to be nibbled at when the dog or cat wants. If this dog or cat is the correct weight and doesn’t over eat and just picks exactly what it needs (and SOME pets are very good at doing this) then if that is how it suits you to feed them then please carry on.

Please beware however as your pet may start off the correct weight and gradually slide into growing to be overweight so gradually that you don’t see it

Fussy eaters and how to help them

Some pets are not food motivated at all. We see many dogs who are very picky eaters and these never finish a meal and often just take a little of what you offer them. These pets (often dogs) are just not food orientated. Leaving food down permanently for these dogs to ‘encourage’ them to eat is actually teaching them to be pickier. They are ‘taught’ that it is ok to have the odd mouthful here and there and food will always be available and there is no need to worry.

Instead these pets should be offered food 2-3 times a day in small meals but if they turn their nose up or only eat a fraction of what you offer then the rest should be taken away and the pet not offered more till the next meal time. Worse still some of these dogs are ‘encouraged’ to eat by adding tasty meat to their diets and offered tit bits and nicer things to eat because the owner worries about their lack of intake of food. This can over ride their natural picky appetite and can turn a slim, fit fussy eater into an overweight pet.

There is nothing wrong with being a picky, fussy eater. The doctor’s surgery sees a steady trickle of worried parents dragging their perfectly healthy toddlers to the doctor because “he barely seems to eat enough to survive”. We see the same issue with pets, especially dogs, with people worrying that they don’t eat enough.

No healthy toddler or pet ever refuses food and wastes away! If your pet is a healthy weight and just chooses not to eat much then do not try and override this wonderful situation. Spend all the money your pet saves you on things for yourself and enjoy having a trim, fit pet. If you think your pet is underweight then that is a different issue and if your pet never seems to eat much and is underweight then there may be a health issue and please ask us to look at him and we will tell you if there is a health problem causing a poor appetite. Most don’t have.

One of each

Having one overweight pet and one thin or normal weight pet is a common difficulty for pet owners. Also they sometimes have one greedy overweight pet and another that may be old or frail and needs food little and often. You need to treat these two very differently and you can’t simply say well I need to leave food down all the time for the old frail one and I can’t stop the greedy one getting to it. Set meals for the overweight one and close the door on him and at other times of the day take time to offer food to the pet that does need to eat more often.

People often complain to us that “it’s impossible with these two. As soon as he finishes his food he runs over and pushes the other one out of the way and finishes theirs” or “the poor old boy eats really slowly and never gets to finish as the greedy one hoovers all his up and then rushes over and takes over the second bowl too”.

Doors were invented to deal with just this problem!

It is impossible to feed one pet an extra meal in front of another pet and expect them not to be unhappy (and you to feel ‘cruel’).

Get someone to play with the overweight pet (or take them out for a 10 minute walk!) while you devote attention and time to your second pet. What the first one doesn’t know about, it can’t miss!

Food always in the bowl?

We see 2 common situations.

1. There is always a food bowl down with food in it. As discussed before, these pets are often fussy eaters and often started life very fit and slim. We wanted them to eat more and leaving food down like this has ‘tempted’ them to eat more than they naturally would have. They gradually get too heavy.

If these pets start as bigger eaters then they are usually obese at this stage and often have got so big that their initially healthy appetites are permanently blunted by the constant access to food.

2. People believe that they only feed their pet once or twice a day but the pet never finishes its food so there is always some left in the bowl. This pet is feeding itself all day or all night and is certainly not on 1 or 2 meals a day.

You may put it down once or twice but he is feeding over long stretches, picking whenever he wants till the bowl is eventually empty. Sometimes this never happens. Sometimes when you come to refill it there is still a bit of the previous meal left. These pets are on a 24 hour feeding regime. Their owners will still tell us, when asked how often they feed their pet, “he only gets fed twice a day”.

Food should never be left in the bowl I hate my pet being hungry!

Weight gain is an insidious problem and as it creeps up on our pets they learn to cope with carrying more weight and we get used to them looking that way and being less fit. When we work with you to transform an overweight pet into a trimmer and fitter pet we always see a happier pet. They may be hungrier but they are always happier.

Being hungry at various times of the day is a natural state to be in. When I get home for my tea after a long day at work I can be seriously hungry. This is not because my wife has been cruel to me. This is because I haven’t eaten for a few hours and will now eat 2 or three course of food and sit back happy and content at the end of it. I will be hungry again the next morning and will enjoy my breakfast and so on in a happy natural cycle, I can override this by munching in the car between calls and having biscuits with my tea and my waist line will slowly widen as the years go by.

If someone totally over rode that situation and went on all my calls with me and sat in the passenger seat and every time I said “when is teatime? I am a bit peckish” they gave me a pack of crisps, a pasty, a chocolate or a banana and suddenly I was eating 10 snacks a day then a) I would never get truly hungry and when my wife gave me my 2 course evening meal I wouldn’t finish it and b) my waistline wouldn’t have gently expanded, I would be obese!

Letting your pet get hungry and your dog sat in the kitchen drooling as you open a tin of food is a natural and happy situation. Never feel that you are being cruel by making your pet wait for its tea and breakfast. 2 or 3 meals a day at set times is all they need. Pets love routines. We eat set meals. We have breakfast, lunch and supper and if we stick to these with ourselves and our pets then weight problem would be lessened. There is nothing wrong with 2 or 3 square meals it is all the extra stuff that come along between meals that causes the problem.

Dealing with Overweight Dogs Dogs are easy. Give them plenty of exercise and feed them 2 meals a day with an occasional treat and you will have a healthy happy dog.

If your pet doesn’t get enough exercise then give it more. Reweigh and review.

If your pet gets too many treats then reduce these. Dogs want a treat. They will be just as happy and will feel just as loved by the owner that gives them a quarter of a beef strip as the owner that gives them 2 beef strips. Dogs that get a biscuit last thing at night before going to bed will be just as happy as the dog that gets 4 biscuits just before bed! Feeding too many tit bits is a human problem that becomes a dog problem.

Some chews and treats are better than others. Rawhide chews are good for teeth and contain far fewer calories then ‘Dentastix’ or jerky type chews.

If your pet is on adlib food when ever it wants it then stop this immediately and feed 2 or 3 times a day at set regular meal times. Take anything away that he leaves at the end of the meal. Reweigh and review.

Still not losing? Then reduce the size of each meal. Reweigh and review.

Still not losing? Then reduce from 3 to 2 meals or from 2 to 1 meal. Reweigh and review.

Still not losing? Then you need to feed lower calorie food. Get ‘light’ varieties rather then ‘full fat’ food. Most brands of food have a ‘light’ type for overweight or less active dogs. Move off dry food and try tinned. Try home cooked food. Try a whole new diet such as the ‘raw meaty bones diet’ (see below) If still not losing then we need to get involved. We will review how and what you feed your dog. We will review how you exercise your dog. We will ensure that there isn’t a medical reason for your pet being overweight or not losing weight.

We can offer lower calorie foods that you can buy at pet shops or supermarkets and we can help to show you how to use them to achieve weight loss In the vast majority of dogs we diet them by use of increased exercise and reduced food, this is the natural and best way to lose weight.

Raw food diets There are an increasing number of people who choose to feed raw or natural food to their pets.

Most cats and dogs eat their ‘processed’ dry or tinned food quite quickly.

Raw food takes much longer to eat and is much more interesting for pets. Feeding time is a huge part of their day and if this takes longer and is more stimulating then that can only add to the pleasure.

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