Those soft, brown, endearing eyes seem to peer directly into your heart. Then the little paw comes up, tentative, gently requesting. Cute and adorable, but the message is loud and clear: “I’m hungry! Please feed me!” Some let you know by scratching the bedroom door at 4am, some by meowing or whimpering incessantly, others by bringing you their food dish or helping themselves. Our pets almost always seem willing to eat, some even seem to be trying to convince us they are starving. It is no surprise that obesity in our pets has become an epidemic.
If you are feeling frustrated, knowing that if you feed your pet any less they will chew a hole through the cupboard, yet their weight just keeps going up, you are not alone!
The health consequences of obesity are much the same in our pets as they are for ourselves. Diabetes, heart disease, energy loss, reduced mobility, debilitating joint disease and a shortened life expectancy all affect our overweight pets in frightening frequency. It can become a vicious circle as the overweight pet can no longer exercise, has more time to think about eating and strategize about how to persuade their humans to provide more food.
Our best secret weapon is that, until our pets grow an opposable thumb, we control their access to food. But many of our pets don’t fight fair – they will hold hostage our shoes, garbage cans, even our sleep, and our sympathetic hearts – until they wear us down. And our pets always know who in the family will cave first, they will focus 90% of their efforts on that individual.
So here is an Action Plan:
1. Take Stock:
- Weigh your pet and identify their target weight – ask your veterinary team, they can help here
- Measure the amount of food you offer, and how much your pet eats in 24 hours (measure in 250ml/8oz cup, and portion/size of cans)
- Measure treats and human food – every time someone gives them an “extra”, have them place the same extra in a container so the total can be looked at after 24 hours· Read your bag/can of pet food or check online to find out how many kcal/cup and %fat make up their current diet
2. Gain Control:
- Make sure everyone in your house is on board! Some people will have a harder time resisting the pleas for treats – this person should be in charge of giving most of the allowable treats. The person with the hardest resolve should be in charge of measuring the food for each meal and enforcing limits.
- Time to feed in set meals! No more “grazing”, our pets are hunters, not a herd of sheep! It might take some adjustment, but our pets are quick to learn that the food dish goes when they walk away, and isn’t returning until dinner/breakfast.
- No more sharing! There’s no way around it – you will never be successful until each pet is only eating their own meal. When a diet is put in place the more dominant one will just eat more than their share, leaving others without. This may mean feeding pets in separate rooms and closing doors.
- Measure each meal for consistency. Use a measuring cup or cut down a margarine container so everyone knows exactly how much food to offer.
3. Making Changes:
- Start by reducing their calories by about 20%. You could do this by feeding 20% less food or you can find a food with 20% less kcal/cup (and hopefully less fat!). Beware – not all “diet” foods are the same. You need to find out their kcal/cup as some “diet” foods have more kcal/cup than other regular foods! If unsure, ask your veterinary team for some direction, they often have the calorie counts on more popular foods.
- Treats – you don’t have to stop these, but you can make substitutions. Try using healthier treats (fruit, vegetables, melba toast pieces, unbuttered popcorn, or even ice cubes). Keep the healthy treats easily accessible, get rid of the old ones. Ask yourself – “do they really need a treat right now?” or can it wait. Whenever possible, offer smaller treats – just give 1 instead of 2; break them into smaller pieces. Set a daily limit of treats – premeasured each morning so that family members know when the limit is reached.
- Don’t feed large meals before leaving your pet alone. When the family is gone your pet doesn’t have anyone to plead their case to. But when you arrive home they will launch their plan into action and you want to have enough of their daily food allotment left to fill them up so that you can relax without the hostage negotiations. This is especially true of cats.
4. How Are You Doing?
- Check for success. Don’t wait a year until their next health check- up to find out the diet isn’t working. Check your pet’s weight every months, and then you can make adjustments until you see their weight starting to come off. We are here to help – you are welcome to drop by and use our scales, free of charge. It also gives your pet a chance to visit our hospital without having any needles, just some friendly ear scratches, and a low calorie treat too! You can also measure the circumference of your pet’s waist and chest, then compare from month to month to see if they are losing the inches you want.
- If you are not having success; the weight won’t come off, or your pet’s bad behaviours become unbearably amplified by the diet then it’s time to check in with your veterinarian. Some pets may have a health problem, such as a thyroid condition, that needs to be identified and controlled. Some pets need more specific diets for success –as veterinarians we have access to diets that have more fat restrictions, diets that help prevent the feeling of hunger, and diets that have greater calorie restriction than those available in the pet food stores.
- Some pets also suffer from painful joint disease that prevents them from being more active. Come and speak to us to see if the condition might apply to your pet, and if so, we can discuss the many options available to make your pet comfortable and more active again.
Don’t expect miracles. Once you have their weight going down you should aim for steady monthly decreases. If everyone stays committed you should hope to see your pet reach their target weight within 6-18 months. Success requires a healthy dose of resolve and some tough love, but keep reminding yourself that your pet will live longer, be healthier and feel more energetic once their weight it under control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The team at Fonthill Animal Hospital is here to help you and your pet succeed!