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14th January 2022

Pet Obesity: Causes and Prevention

Meet Sara, our Nutritionist

Sara is a proud pet parent to Mae the Cocker Spaniel, 3 cats and a growing flock of hens, and she knows that nutrition is key to their happy and healthy lives. With a degree in Animal Science and over 12 years’ experience as a Pet Nutritionist, Sara shares useful information and resources on dog nutrition with pet parents like you.

Over to Sara…

Keeping your dog happy and healthy is a priority for all pet parents and the correct nutrition and feeding practices can contribute significantly to this.

With an estimated 51% of our dog population thought to be overweight or obese[1], obesity is not only one of the most common diseases seen in veterinary practice, but one which, in many cases, can be avoided with correct feeding management, good daily feeding and care regimes, and open discussion.

Pet obesity can lead to a whole host of other problems later in life, including joint health problems, respiratory conditions and skin issues. According to recent research, obese and overweight dogs are[2]:

• 3.9x more likely to be diagnosed with dermatological (skin) issues

• 3.7x more likely to be diagnosed with endocrinological disorders (hormone imbalances)

• 2.4x more likely to be diagnosed with respiratory conditions

• 3.1x more likely to be diagnosed with orthopaedic conditions

Obesity, therefore, isn’t just about the size of our dogs. By preventing pet obesity, we contribute to their overall welfare and quality of life and also reduce the risk of them developing other related and potentially more serious medical conditions.

So, what are the causes of pet obesity and how can we prevent it?

Causes of Pet Obesity and How to Prevent it

 Our four-legged friends are very much part of the family so it’s understandable that we want to feed and treat our pets like we would ourselves. However, if bad feeding practices become part of our daily routine, they can result in obesity. Preventing obesity can be done, but it is all about recognising the risks and early warning signs.

Overfeeding

Overfeeding is a primary cause of obesity within our pet population and can often be done without realising it’s taking place. Dogs have calorie requirements that depend on many factors, including age, breed, sex, neuter status and activity level. The calories they require and obtain not only include the calories from their regular food, but also any additional sources such as table scraps and treats.

To prevent overfeeding, it’s important to monitor the amount of food you feed your dog and their body condition. To start, use the feeding guide on the back of their food packaging to give a guide as to the amount of food they should be fed daily, based on their weight. Continue to assess your dog’s body condition and adjust feeding quantities accordingly depending on any weight gain or loss experienced. It is also important to understand that feeding quantities are rarely static and depend on your dog at the present time, for example, their current level of exercise or age. Therefore, body condition should be frequently checked. You can see our body condition scoring chart below.

The feeding of treats should be limited. As a guide, treats should supply no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie requirement and, if feeding treats, the amount of their daily complete food should be reduced accordingly to account for the additional calories. Treats can potentially supply excessive amounts of calories, for example, a single dental chew is approximately equivalent to over 40g of complete food. Occasional treats given as part of a healthy balanced diet are perfectly fine in combination with cuddles, walks or playing with toys, which are all also rewarding for your pup. Green and watery vegetables, such as courgette, cucumber, and watermelon, are also great ways to treat your dog without the addition of many calories.

Feeding table scraps should be avoided as it leads to bad habits, excessive calorie intake and ingestion of potentially harmful human foods, such as onions, garlic, grapes and raisins.

Exercise

In combination with overfeeding, a lack of exercise can contribute to obesity. It is important to ensure that your four-legged friend receives plenty of exercise each day to support not only their physical health, but mental health and wellbeing too. The amount of exercise needed varies from dog to dog but, generally, between 30 minutes and 2 hours of activity per day is advisable.

Obese dogs may find excessive levels of exercise difficult – increasing activity by just a little can make a big difference and 3 to 4 smaller walks a day can be beneficial. However, it is important to stress that relatively speaking, controlling what your dog consumes is the biggest factor in treating or preventing pet obesity as exercise has been found to contribute to as little as approximately 6% of weight loss[3].

Genetics and Breed Disposition

Genetics and breed disposition can also play a crucial role in determining the likelihood of pets developing obesity. Some breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Bulldogs, Pugs, Bassett Hounds, Beagles and Dachshunds, can be more prone to obesity.

In this case, minimising risk is key. It is important that all puppies and dogs attend their scheduled veterinary check-ups and that pups are weighed regularly to ensure that they not only grow at the correct rate but also maintain an ideal weight into and throughout adulthood. Early identification of excessive weight gain can make treatment and correction more manageable. Regular trips to the vets also allow veterinary professionals to identify risk factors associated with obesity to manage their needs and minimise the risk of developing obesity in later years.

As an added level of complexity in not only managing obesity but identifying it amongst our pet population, there has been a normalisation of obesity and a new understanding of what a “healthy weight” looks like. It is, therefore, crucial that recognising and understanding what correct body condition scores look like on our pets and checking these regularly become part of our normal routine and understanding.

Managing Weight Loss

If you’re managing your dog’s weight, it is important to do this whilst working very closely with your vet. Attending regular appointments and weigh-ins is vital to ensure the weight loss journey goes to plan. The process should involve assessing dietary choices, setting achievable plans and targets, and agreeing your four-legged friend’s optimal or target weight.

Weigh food on digital scales for accuracy. Tools such as interactive feeding toys and feeding mats may also help as they slow down the rate of feeding and allow the brain to catch up with the stomach to register that “feeling of fullness”, as well as adding enrichment and increasing activity levels.

Correct feeding management of the right product and quantity is essential in managing and preventing pet obesity. Our Lean & Tasty recipes are 20% lower in fat than our other recipes, helping to reduce calorie intake. The added L-carnitine helps to turn fat into energy and the wholegrain rice keeps your dog feeling fuller for longer.

If your dog is less active or if you’re managing their weight, take a look at our Lean & Tasty recipes here.

Sara, Butcher's Nutritionist

[1] Please see source here.

[2] Please see source here.

[3] Chapman, M. et al. (2019) An open-label randomised clinical trial to compare the efficacy of dietary caloric restriction and physical activity for weight loss in overweight pet dogs The Veterinary Journal 243: 65-73

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