Maintaining our pets' weight is such an important part of pet ownership!
Sadly, overweight animals have the potential to develop a variety of health issues and this can harm their quality of life. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) released a report in 2019 specifically aimed at pet obesity. The report concluded that 74% of veterinary surgeons in the UK “believe that the prevalence of obesity has increased over the last five years”. According to these vets, 51% of the overweight animals seen were dogs, followed by 44% being cats.
Obesity can have a detrimental effect on our pets' life and can cause further problems to develop. These include:
• Joint and bone disorders
• Cardiovascular diseases
• Respiratory disorders (more prolific in small breeds of dog)
• Development of cancers
• Lowered immune system
• Increased risk of heatstroke
• Increased risk of anaesthesia complications during surgery
• Shortened lifespan
The main cause of obesity in our pets is a combination of overfeeding and a lack of exercise. When our pets eat their dinner they are in taking energy that should be expelled through physical exercise. If their exercise does not match the energy they intake through their food then this can result in unwanted weight gain. Therefore monitoring meals and providing the optimal amount of exercise for our pets is vital to their well-being.
Fibre & Calorie-Restricted Foods
One option to help make weight management more manageable is to feed a calorie-restricted (also known as light) food. While these types of food can assist with weight loss, it's important to still consider the composition.
Often, calorie-restricted foods are lower in fat and calories to help prevent excessive weight gain, but will also contain additional fibre. This extra fibre is what helps keep our pets feeling full even though their food contains fewer calories.
On average, dry pet foods contain a fibre content between 2.5 - 4.5%, whereas some calorie-restricted foods contain closer to 9 -10%. While this might help keep our pets feeling full, too much fibre in their diet can decrease the digestibility of other nutrients in the food.
Some calorie-restricted diets that are high in fibre may also be high in other forms of carbohydrates. Dogs and cats cannot thrive on high carbohydrate-based diets as their digestive systems are not well adapted to digesting them. As a result, their bodies must work harder to break down carbohydrates.
While some dogs can benefit from appropriate quantities of certain carbohydrates, the same cannot be said for cats. This is because dogs are facultative carnivores, animals that can ingest plant matter alongside their regular diet of meat, whereas cats are obligate carnivores and can primarily only digest meat protein. Links have been established between carbohydrate-rich diets and the rise in feline diabetes, as a result of the digestive system and pancreas having to work harder to break down carbohydrates.
Pet foods rich in digestible protein are an excellent alternative to calorie-restricted foods. Fresh and dried meat is easier to digest compared to meat meal and animal derivatives, and feeding a diet that is rich in protein can help promote muscle and maintain weight in both dogs and cats.
Other Things To Consider
If our pets need to go on a diet, it is important to remember not to compensate by giving them too many treats! However, there's no reason why our pets still can't enjoy low-fat treats while still trying to lose weight. Nowadays, the pet market is full of low-fat treats so there is a great variety to choose from.
Ideally, we want to look for treats that have less than 10% fat. Treats made of fish skin are often incredibly low in fat, and chicken-based treats are often another option. The fat content of any pet food items can be found on the packaging and will be referred to as "crude fat & oil", "crude fat", "oils & fats", or even just simply "oil" or "fat", to name a few.
Exercise is another vital part of weight loss and can also be a fun experience for our pets. Interacting with our pets through games and toys will strengthen our bond with them while helping them shed some extra weight. Cats are naturally more active in the mornings and evenings, making this the best time of day to spend some extra quality time with them. For dogs, interactive games on walks can really help increase their exercise. Bringing their favourite toy on a walk to play with, or walking them in new places will encourage more movement and maybe even some zoomies..!