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Pawsome diet tips for pets

Obesity harms cats and dogs just like it can harm humans. Now vets say we should rethink the way we feed our pets, to avoid serious health problems.

At breakfast time, does the family dog sit at your feet, looking longingly at that half slice of toast left on your plate? When you’re out, does he bound up to you, tail wagging, knowing he’ll get one of those treats in your pocket if he comes to your call? And, as soon as you arrive home, does your cat wind herself round your legs, in the hope you’ll produce her favourite fatty snack?

Around one in three Kiwi cats are obese, according to a 2014 Palmerston North survey by Massey University.

Rochelle Ferguson, veterinarian and spokesperson for companion animals at the New Zealand Veterinary Association, says New Zealand vets estimate the statistics for dogs to be similar.

The trouble is, when we feed our pets very few of us count the kilojoules. That one-half slice of leftover toast given to a 5kg dog, for instance, is equivalent to us popping an extra five slices or more on our plate after we’ve finished everything we usually eat.

So, while millions of humans are resolving to have a healthier way of life in 2017, should we also review our pet’s daily diet?

Dr Ferguson says that, for dogs, obesity is the most common health problem vets see in New Zealand. And, for cats, obesity is second only to dental disease.

Why worry? The risk of disease associated with carrying too much weight is the same for dogs and cats as it is for humans. That means a higher risk of diabetes and arthritis, for example, as well as lack of stamina, shortened lives and breathing difficulties. Cats are also prone to lower urinary tract disease.

Weigh it up at home

The ideal weight for a dog or cat depends on their breed, lifestyle, age and condition, medications they may be taking or treatments they’ve had, such as desexing.

The first thing to check is your pet’s ‘body condition score’. You can assess this yourself simply by checking your pet.

Signs that your dog is overweight

  • You can’t see the ribs clearly and you can only feel them with significant pressure
  • The waist isn’t easily visible behind their ribs when viewed from above
  • You can feel fat over the spine and base of the tail
  • The abdomen isn’t tucked up when seen from the side

Signs that your cat is overweight

  • The ribs are hard to feel
  • There is a moderate to thick layer of fat covering all the bony prominences
  • The cat has a pendulous ‘skirt’ (bulge under the abdomen), with no waist

If weight gain is clear or if you have any doubts, visit your local vet to have your pet assessed.

Monitor at each vet visit

The biggest risk for obese animals is the failure of their owners to recognise the problem, Dr Ferguson says.

“With about a quarter of animals thought to be obese, and many others overweight, larger than normal animals have become the ‘new normal’.”

Weight changes happen gradually, and having a fresh pair of eyes assess the body condition of your pet at the vet during their annual check-up can provide an early warning, she says.

Keep tabs on treats

Many owners get a lot of enjoyment from giving their pets treats. This interaction is fun for all involved at the time, but can be detrimental to the long-term health of a pet that has weight problems, Dr Ferguson says.

“When treating, use kibble taken from the pet’s daily quota so that the treat is part of daily food intake, not additional to it.

“There is nothing wrong with missing dinner if the dog has been receiving lots of treats over the day as part of a training programme.”

Look to use lower kilojoule options for rewards such as wafer thin slices of chicken, she says. Keep in mind that the size of a treat for a 60kg human will be very different in size for a 5kg dog.

Throwing a ball in the garden or showing your affection by stroking and fussing over them are also rewarding alternatives.

Slowly does it

Any diet – including a weight-loss one – needs to be complete, with the same level of nutrients but fewer kilojoules.

Your vet can advise on what’s right (or not) for your dog or cat’s size and age (bear in mind their diet may need to be adapted throughout their life). These changes can, and should, take time. Sudden, rapid weight loss can leave pets prone to other serious health problems, so talk to your vet about a sensible plan.

Don’t forget the daily walkies

Sitting curled up on the sofa or lying in their bed all day is no better for your cat or dog than it is for you. Encourage your cat to go out. Dogs love walking, so make time for it daily, even a short walk around the block after supper, as well as longer walks whenever you can.

Remember, any significant weight gain will reduce your pet’s quality of life and make the exercise they need less enjoyable (due to lack of stamina and arthritis).

10 things your pets shouldn’t eat

It can be tempting to feed leftovers to our four-legged friends, but some things may be downright dangerous for them. Watch out for these:

  1. Lilies are deadly to cats. Don’t put lilies in vases within their reach.
  2. Chocolate can lead to internal bleeding and heart attack.
  3. Macadamia nuts can be poisonous.
  4. Onions and garlic can lead to anaemia in dogs.
  5. Grapes and sultanas may lead to kidney failure in dogs.
  6. Fatty foods like sausages or the fat from your steak can cause pancreatitis.
  7. Cooked bones including the ham bone can splinter inside dogs.
  8. Karaka berries can be deadly to dogs. Keep an eye out between January and April.
  9. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in mints, and can be deadly to dogs.
  10. Kitchen rubbish such as kebab skewers, string for tying meat and the pads in the plastic tray under meat, can all be lodged in your pet’s intestines if eaten.

‘Losing 4.4kg has had a big effect’

When Nelson pet owner Vicki Davenhill’s beloved cat Max went in for surgery for a blocked bladder, she realised the seriousness of his obesity. Max weighed in at a whopping 11.7kg! Fast forward one year and he’s now down to a much healthier 7.3kg after being put on a weight loss programme initiated by Lisa Jamieson, a senior vet nurse at Stoke Vet Clinic.

“The results have been phenomenal to say the least,” Ms Davenhill says.

“Max has such a bright future, he is now very sociable, friendly and active, and looks the picture of health. I expect him to live to a good old age. My advice to any pet owners who are concerned about their pet’s weight, please don’t be afraid to take your pet for a consultation. They are there to help and not judge you.”

First published: Mar 2017



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