Do we have a suggestion for New Years Resolutions?
Of course we do. I’d like to propose a New Year’s Resolution for almost ALL pet owners, whatever the pet. Whether they’re thin, fat or average. It may surprise you…….
In 2020 we should all resolve to prioritise the weight of our pets.
You what? But my pet’s weight doesn’t need prioritising. My Pet’s Not Fat.
Are you sure? According to the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association 2019 report, just over 50% of dogs, 44 % of cats and 29% of ‘small mammals’ are overweight.
And even if they’re not overweight, most dogs who eat normal-looking dog food, as sold in pet shops, risk becoming overweight in a few years time.
Pets’ lives have changed in the UK:
Dogs, for example, now spend most of their days indoors, and pet-food companies – which are poorly regulated – compete to sell food that dogs like, instead of foods that are good for them.
Some dog-breeds and cats actually evolved to live an environment where food was quite scarce:
They store energy easily as fat. When we bring them into our family homes, where food is not scarce, the air is warm and exercise is for only one or two hours a day, it is little wonder that obesity is a problem.
But my dog’s not fat!
Yes, yes, but to prioritise their weight and diet is still an important resolution to make and we’ll come to that in a minute.
First, some scary facts
(although if you already agreed wholeheartedly with my last statement, I don’t mind if you miss this bit out).
Obesity in animals has been linked to a huge list of conditions, including:
- Reduced physical activity
- Urinary tract problems e.g. stones
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disease
- Poor quality of life
- Fatty liver
- Joint disease
According to the University of Liverpool, published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine, dogs that are even a small amount overweight have been shown to live a shorter life. Obesity can reduce a life by up to two and a half years. That’s 10% of a typical dogs’ lifespan.
OK! I get it! I should get my pet to weigh less.
You’re shouldding all over yourself.
I beg your pardon?
You’re shouldding on yourself. I stole this phrase from observer of human behaviour Bea Marshall, to describe the overuse of the word ‘Should.’
What the heck’s wrong with ‘Should?’
It isn’t particularly useful.
‘Should’ is the word that we use when we know that we ought to do something, but we also know that we aren’t going to. ‘We should get together some time for a catch-up,’ or ‘I shouldn’t spend my evenings watching this programme,’ for example. Saying ‘should’ doesn’t help anyone’s pets, and we don’t have room for more owner-guilt in our lives.
So what – er – SHOULD I say?
Indeed. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Today we are going to take responsibility for our animals’ weights and instead of saying ‘Should,’ we are going to say ‘Will’ or ‘Won’t.’
Are you strong enough for a will or won’t question? Choose a box to tick:
[ ] Today, whatever the weight of my pet, I WILL consider taking responsibility for making sure that it becomes or remains appropriate.
[ ] Today, whatever the weight of my pet, I am going to click elsewhere and forget all about this article.
YOU decide. Obviously, if you ticked the second box, click away now because dwelling on this isn’t good for our brains. If you ticked the first box, read on.
CONGRATULATIONS. Thank you for joining the fight against pet obesity.
Now then, there’s action needed: Book in with the Vet
Don’t panic! This bit’s often inexpensive or free. The purpose of the visit is to assess the weight of your pet.
‘But his / her weight’s fine at the moment.’
That’s lovely. But there are some problems with that:
- Many clients overestimate the ideal weight of their pet. Most vets regularly see animals that they would describe as ‘obese,’ being described as a healthy weight by their owners. This is partly because over half of the dogs that we see every day are too fat: owners are used to seeing overweight dogs in the normal population. It is also because obesity sneaks up on pets in the same way as which it sneaks up on people and we don’t always notice. And vets, being human, especially if there are other issues to discuss, don’t always like to comment.
- Keeping a pet slim is much easier than getting weight off having made them fat; regular check-us while they still look ‘fine’ to you is a brilliant early warning system and can make a massive positive difference early on in an animal’s life.
But if my pet is fat, I’m going to feel guilty
Stop that. No owner, human or animal should have to apologise or be ashamed for who or what or how they are. But it helps a lot if they take responsibility for changing their future and your vet appreciates this.
So book the appointment.
Who will I see?
If you are asked to see a nurse not a vet, that is often because they are the best person in the practice for helping to control animals’ obesity. They are usually exceptionally well trained in the subject and will have more time to talk through things and help you. Vets are lovely too, but in lots of practices, they tend to focus more on diagnosing conditions.
What will they do?
The vet or nurse will weigh the dog and decide whether the weight is appropriate.
If your pet is underweight, they will advise you what to do next.
If they are the perfect weight, you will leave the vets feeling fantastic and should arrange to go in and use the scales again so that you can pick up any changes and act on them at the first sign.
However, if they’re overweight, there is work to be done.
See! You’re going to sell me diet dog-food, aren’t you? I knew this was going to get expensive.
I am not selling anything and what’s more, I am from Yorkshire. I’m what’s known as ‘tight’ and routinely shocked by the price of some ‘healthy’ dog food. I am even more shocked by the price of some luxury, bad-for-you, pancreatitis-inducing dog-food that supermarkets put into healthy-looking, expensive-looking tins. And I am shocked by how difficult it is to tell the difference.
The simple way to find a decent dog food is to ask your vet. The one saving grace about vet-quality diets is that one bag goes a long way. Make sure your nurse talks to you about canine portion-size and cost per day; you may be pleasantly surprised.
If, however, a special diet is suggested for your pet and the price is completely off-putting, also mention this to your nurse. It helps nobody if they sell you a food that you can’t afford on a regular basis. One packet of food will not make your dog slim; you need to find something you can feed to your pet as a habit.
Habit! That seems to be a buzz-word nowadays
It is indeed a very good word. ‘Habits’ are things that you do so often you don’t even think about them. Your habits are your ‘normal.’
This is significant because:
- To make a dog slimmer, it’s important to change your habits. All your good work will be lost if you revert to your old habits as soon as you run out of diet-food, enthusiasm or energy. Feeding a good diet needs to become your new ‘normal,’ not something you do during January. You will need to plan ahead.
- Your dog might not want to eat as much as usual. Please remember that some dogs on supermarket diets are used to eating the dog-equivalent of a McDonalds every meal-time. You might turn your nose up at a healthy balanced meal if that was your reality, too. My advice would be to leave the food down for a little while; if the dog doesn’t eat it, pick it up and offer it again later on. In the wild, wolves sometimes even go for a day without food. When the food isn’t full of energy-dense fat, the animal may be less inclined to eat it when they aren’t hungry. To some extent, this is okay but talk to your vet-nurse about how to proceed.
- Lots of little habits can make a massive difference. These include treats (instead of habitually giving a dog chew, perhaps you could give something vegetable-based instead?).
Also think about EXERCISE
This is another habit, although one that gets squeezed by a normal, packed family schedules. Don’t neglect it; it might make the world of difference to your pet.
What if my pet’s a rabbit?
The principle are the same, but rabbits can’t live without chewing grass. That’s serious – it can make them very ill. As a vet, I am always amazed by some of the firms selling rabbit concentrate pellets: rabbits in the wild eat grass, which is what they were designed for. Take advice from your vet about how much and what sort of concentrate food you should feed. Hay is the main diet: think of rabbit-pellets as ‘pudding’.
What should I take home from all this?
Get your pet weighed and assessed by a vet, as often as they recommend. If your pet is overweight, or starts to become overweight, it’s well worth the time and effort to keep their weight healthy. I won’t pretend that an industry hasn’t sprung up around getting weight off animals, but it doesn’t need to be expensive and can increase a pet’s lifespan and comfort.
If your pet is a perfect weight, be proud. But remember continue to get them weighed regularly; prevention is better than cure.
I hope you will join me in focusing on your pets weight next year, even if your pet isn’t fat.