Obesity in pets: What part does nutrition play?
‘You are what you eat’, right? But in the case of our pets, it’s more so that ‘they are what we feed them’!
Pet obesity is a real problem all over the world and a major health concern, with studies in the U.S. showing nearly 60% of cats and 56% of dogs were classified as overweight or obese in 2018, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Obesity is one of the most common nutritional disorders in companion animals today and does not only increase the risk of pets developing other health issues, but it can also subsequently reduce life expectancy and negatively impact their quality of life! Some pet owners may see that additional body fat as cute and cuddly, but they are not doing their pet any favours by feeding one too many table scraps!
What are the causes of obesity?
Genetic predisposition, age, neuter status, excess consumption of energy-dense foods and insufficient exercise are all factors that can contribute to those additional unwanted kilograms of body fat! Obesity in cats and dogs is caused through the imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure, i.e. the amount of energy consumed through the diet compared to the amount of energy utilised by the animal.
Dietary and Nutritional Management
So, what can you do as a responsible pet parent to ensure that your pet does not become overweight or obese? Obviously, prevention is better than treatment, but with so many different diets on the market, it can sometimes be hard to know what’s best for your pet. Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining your pets body weight and condition, however, it’s not just the amount of food you feed them but also the type of food.
It’s specifically important to take note of the fat percentage of your pets’ food; fat provides over double the number of calories than protein and carbohydrates of the same quantity. If your cat or dog has a tendency to gain weight, then a specific weight management food that is low-fat, low-calorie, and therefore less energy-dense may be a good way to help them get back on track; Hill’s Science Diet Adult Light for your dog or Nutro Wholesome Essentials Weight Management Adult Natural for your cat are some diet options you may want to look into; don’t forget to speak with your Veterinary professional if you have further questions on weight management diets.
Along with reduced calories, some weight management diets contain an increased amount of fibre; research has shown that dietary fibre may increase and maintain satiety and therefore, postpone the onset of hunger in dogs i.e. they feel fuller for longer. As well as fibre, some weight management diets are supplemented L-Carnitine; this amino acid is involved in healthy fat metabolism and supplementation can aid in increasing lean mass and reducing fat mass. Royal Canin Light Weight Care is enriched with L-Carnitine and contains a special blend of fibres including psyllium to help your cat to maintain a healthy body condition.
A complete and balanced diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for your pet, and while pet foods that are formulated to be balanced, overfeeding can lead to imbalances in nutrients. All pet foods should provide feeding guidelines to help you establish the daily quantity to feed; however, this is not to say that you should always follow these guidelines to the gram. Feeding guidelines are exactly that, a guide, and the amount of food your pet requires is variable and can depend on several factors including their age, breed, body condition, and activity levels.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
So now you’re thinking, if you can’t always feed exactly as the guidelines recommend, then how do I know how much food is the right amount for my pet? This is where measuring their body weight and body condition score (BCS) is useful!
Body condition scoring allows you to assess the amount of body fat your pet is carrying as it is not just weight, but also the size and shape of your pet that’s important. Nestle Purina Pet Care Centre has developed a Body Condition System that can help you to determine if your cat or dog is an ideal weight, and if deemed to be too heavy (or too thin) then it’s probably time to adjust their diet accordingly. See here for more detailed information on how to assess your pets BCS or seek guidance from your Vet!