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New Year’s Reductions!

I’m sure you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions this year - ours are largely related to getting fitter and losing some weight after the excesses of Christmas! However, it’s not just you or us - many of our pets are carrying some extra weight at the moment… nearly half of all UK dogs and cats are overweight or obese! So in this blog, we’re going to look at how we can help them get fitter and thinner as well…

Informative image: fat cat

Step 1 - what weight should they be?

Just checking body weights aren’t useful for most pets - for example, a healthy weight for a domestic moggy can range from 2kg to 7kg! Equally, simple measurements like the BMI used in humans are pretty unreliable. As a result, we use a system called the Body Condition Score, or BCS. This is a way of estimating the amount of fat the animal is carrying under their skin, and is both easy and reliable.

It works on a simple 1-5 scale (some people use a 1-9 instead, but it’s the same principle). A 1 means the pet is emaciated, 2 is underweight, 3 equals just right, four is overweight and 5 indicates morbidly obese.

You can see the guidance and download the “Pet Size-O-Meter” scoring charts for a range of different species from here.

Step 2 - dieting…

To lose weight, in almost every case the pet has to eat less! There are three major areas to approach…

●      Measure out their food - if you feed a 10kg dog for 15 kg, they’ll probably end up weighing in at 15kg! Read the packet - it will say how much to give, and if in doubt, talk to one of our nurses.

●      Avoid extra treats - if you are going to give treats, make sure they come out of the day’s calculated ration.

●      Use lower-calorie foods. In particular, be very careful not to give too much human food either - for an average size cat, a single cube of cheese is the equivalent to us eating two or three burgers! There are special “reducing” or “weight control” diets available that make pets feel full sooner. For rabbits and other small pets, it’s also important to feed hay and pellets rather than muesli-type foods, otherwise they’ll only eat the richest and highest-calorie bits!

However, you don’t want them to lose weight too fast - we’d recommend a weight loss of about 1% per week. Any faster, and you could cause hyperlipaemia and even liver disease.

Step 3 - exercise to fitness

More exercise is really important, for any pet! However, exactly how you do this does depend on the species - relatively few people take their rabbit or canary for a run in the park, strangely enough…

Dogs

The best solution is to take them for a run with you (or at least a brisk walk)! Not only will it help their physical fitness, but being out and about with you will be great for their mental wellbeing, and good for you too! If your pet is old and stiff, or arthritic, they can and should still potter about with you - but little and often is better than a long session.

Cats

Cats tend to be less enthralled with going out for walks and runs (although some do seem to love it!). Instead, focus on play - cats love pouncing, climbing and jumping games. If you can persuade them to play for half an hour a day, you’re doing them the world of good!

Rabbits and Rodents

Making sure they’ve got space to run and hop in, at least some of the time, is really important. However, to keep mind and body active, try hiding their food around their pen, hutch or cage using pet-safe containers (e.g. cardboard rolls). Having to work for their food is great exercise and mental stimulation!

Birds

Most birds need to fly, climb, or both - so making sure they have the space to do so, and that their food and water are placed in locations that encourage flight, is great exercise.

If you want any assistance, make an appointment to see one of our vets or nurses for a weight clinic! Remember, though, any pets with underlying health problems need a vet check before starting any new diets or exercise programmes.