No animal lover wants to face the idea of losing their furry little buddy- so what would you do if we told you there was a simple, incredibly easy way you could make sure they’re with you for the longest, happiest life possible? Here are Ou Kaapse Vet’s top tips for making sure excess weight gain doesn’t slow your little buddy down or take them from you.
Sadly, stats suggest that over 50% of companion animals in the US are overweight or obese, and South Africa’s furry friends aren’t doing much better. While the roly-poly chub may seem cute to us it can have drastically bad effects on the health of your special little friend, so maintaining a healthy weight is key for your pet. Like most things in life, it’s easier to keep them at a healthy weight to start with rather than trying to lose it later, so here’s what you need to know.
Why does a healthy weight matter?
Obesity is as much of a health risk for your pets as for yourself. Obesity contributes to thyroid and diabetes conditions, heart and respiratory disease, many forms of cancer, and vastly exacerbates osteoarthritis and hip issues. Sadly, it also makes them significantly less likely to handle anaesthetic well if they need even simple surgical procedures, including neutering and regular dental care. Needless to say, if Fido or Fluffy has an existing health condition, weight will make that worse too.
But it’s not just about what we see on the veterinary table. It’s about their quality of life too. We live in a roasting hot climate, and a fat doggo or kitty spends the day uncomfortable and irritated. This discomfort can manifest itself as poor temperament and ‘bad behaviour’ when really they just need your help. They are more prone to injury and issues like fat-fold fungal infection and skin irritation. Their hygiene suffers as they can’t maintain themselves. It becomes easier for pests to bug them, as they move slower when they move at all. Their energy is low, and that dampens down their personality and keeps them sedate instead of playful. This, in turn, can prevent their brain from getting the stimulation it needs to keep them happy and engaged for a long life. In short, it may look cute, but it is a health disaster.
How do I ensure my pets don’t get overweight?
It’s important you stay active and engaged with your animal, and this helps their weight too. A happy pet that plays with their people is far less likely to gain weight than a bored, lonely one. And remember, another animal isn’t enough companionship- while dogs and cats may play with an animal buddy, they crave the stimulation of interacting with you and their toys in a meaningful way. You are their favourite people, remember! Make sure your indoor cats have plenty of perches to encourage them to climb and explore, and get your dog out in the neighbourhood for health-boosting walks.
It’s important to know your breed well too. Know what to expect [and what they need] at every life stage, as it will change. Overall breed profile matters too. A brachiocephalic animal [flat faced breeds like pugs or Persians] will need to be kept cool and quiet during the day so they don’t overheat, but still need to get in some exercise when it’s cool. Lean dogs like greyhounds can be prone to yo-yo weight gain and drops that are bad for their health, and the differences between ‘fat’, ‘perfect’ and ‘too thin’ can be rather small. A lap dog doesn’t need the walking schedule of a herding dog, but that doesn’t mean they can live in your handbag or on the couch, either! Ageing animals still need play and exercise, but in a different way from young, developing bodies or solid adults.
Once you know the basics of the breed, it’s important to apply them to your individual animal too. Just like people, they can vary a lot. Some gain weight easily, while you will fight to keep weight on others. Some pets will happily eat everyone’s portion and don’t care what it is, while others are picky eaters you have to beg to consider even the finest food. Some are naturally lazy and need a little prodding, where others will be waiting by the door come playtime or walk time. Knowing the quirks of your own pet will help you structure their life to keep them motivated and at a stable weight.
Can I judge their weight at home?
While it’s always a great idea to ask your vet for their input on your pet’s weight come check-up time [or any time you have any concerns], you can do a simple at-home evaluation to get a rough idea of where you stand. Ideally, you should feel but not see their ribs. This can be a little different on some naturally very lean animals, like the greyhound, boerwindhond and Oriental cat, so do make sure to learn the specifics for your breed, but is a great rule of thumb. If you have to dig just to feel their ribs, you have a problem.
They should have a defined ‘waist’ from the top and sides, where the body tucks in behind the ribs heading to the pelvis. There should be no pronounced ‘fat folds’ or rolls on the body or at the base of the tail [again, breeds like the bulldog and Shar Pei do have facial folds, and many hunting dog breeds have jowls, but these aren’t the same]. If you have any doubts at all, or just want some reassurance, be sure to chat with the vet about your concerns. It’s what we are here for! And should your animal need a little slimming down, we can help with that too.
The Ou Kaapse Vet team is here to help you manage your pet’s weight and lifestyle at all stages of their life, so please feel free to reach out to us today if there’s anything more you’d like to know.