Obesity is Killing The Dogs & Cats in India: How to Help your Fat Pet Lose Weight
Is my dog or cat fat? “No, he’s just adorably chonky/thicc”
We sometimes agree with our moms that Social Media has really ruined a lot for our generation (human and otherwise). If you’ve seen pictures of overweight dogs and cats floating around Facebook, you know the whole trend of chonky dogs and cats.
There are multiple Facebook Groups and Instagram Pages dedicated to chonky animals. Like this Instagram Page that has 57.3K followers and posts pictures every day.
While all pets are adorable, we need to stop appreciating being overweight or obese right now! Humans can decide when the weight is unhealthy for them, our animals cannot. They do not have the ability to tell us they need help either.
If you’re on the other side of the spectrum and worried if your pet is gaining too much weight or becoming obese, you’ve reached the right place. In this article, we speak about obesity, its causes, how to prevent it and how to help an overweight dog or cat lose weight.
Obesity in Dogs and Cats
Obesity is a nutritional disease characterised by excessive body weight. Dogs & Cats that overeat, do not get enough exercise and hence retain more positive energy in their body are prone to becoming overweight, and then obese. Excessive fat affects multiple organs, and hence the functions of the body – including bones and joints, digestive organs, and even breathing organs. It ruins the quality of your pet’s life and even takes away years.
According to a research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 60% of all cats and 56% of all dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. The numbers wouldn’t differ too much in our case.
Obesity in Pets is a Big Fat Problem
It doesn’t take long for overweight dogs and cats to reach obesity. Pet owners still do not take managing their pet’s weight as seriously as they should. To any responsible pet parent, an overweight dog is a sign of something they’ve been doing wrong and that needs immediate attention. Obesity is a ticking clock in your pet’s body. As their organs and body functions start getting hampered, one doesn’t have too long to reverse the damage before it’s too late. Here’s what obesity brings along; every reason why you need to take it seriously.
- Decreased Life Expectancy
Research by the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, among others, showed that overweight dogs lost about 10 months of their lives as compared to dogs with an ideal weight. If you’re looking for a way to keep your pet with you longer, letting them be obese is NOT the way to go. Obesity is unhealthy and predisposes your pet to a number of different health issues. These health issues completely wreck the quality and length of your pet’s life.
- Bone and Joint Issues
Excessive weight can lead to stress on your pet’s bones and joints. Arthritis is the most common condition associated with being overweight. Breeds that are prone to arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other bone and joint issues suffer badly. The early signs of arthritis are usually not evident, making it very difficult to detect in early stages. Even if your pet has a kilo or two extra, that weight is putting stress on their bones and joints that are not equipped enough to carry that weight. It will eventually damage them and lead to impairments and suffering.
Type-2 diabetes has become extremely rampant in overweight dogs and cats. Insulin resistance is also very common among dogs. Just like humans, pets with high blood sugar may need insulin injections. Diabetes means a life of medication and treatments. However, it’s the simplest to feed the right food in the right quantity.
- High Blood Pressure
Hypertension, one of the most commonly overlooked health conditions in pets, is also known as the ‘Silent Killer’. It is called so because you cannot really tell of its existence on face value, neither can you see the damage it is causing. Its outcomes are usually sudden and serious. Your pet could suddenly go blind, develop heart issues or even end up with a failed kidney due to high blood pressure. If you speculate your pet of being on the heavier side, have their blood pressure checked when you see your vet next.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 25% to 30% of cases of major cancers in humans are caused due to obesity and physical inactivity. In animals too, the formation of many cancers can be blamed on excessive fat. In conclusion, obesity increases the risk of cancer for your pet. Working on the weight will also reduce the risk.
ALSO READ: Everything you should know about Cancer in Dogs and Cats
Obesity is not only unnecessary but also extremely harmful to your pet’s well-being. The issues mentioned above are just a few to name. There are various other problems your pet may face with daily functions, even breathing and sleeping. This makes obesity a very serious issue that needs immediate attention and treatment.
Why do Pets become Obese?
Obesity is a result of continued negligence about your pet’s health on many levels over a period of time. Three major factors could be held responsible for your pet’s obesity:
1. You, the Pet Parent
Keeping your pet’s health in its optimal condition is completely in your hands. It is your decisions that impact how your pet’s life unfolds. To know how you are responsible, start with assessing yourself.
- Your Lifestyle
If you lead an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, it is obvious that your pet will too. If you’re too lazy to take them out for walks and intensive exercise, they will gain weight. If you don’t pay heed to what they are eating all day long, they will gain weight. It is very important for you to lead a life that is healthy and active to ensure your pet leads one too.
- Irresponsible Choices
Pets suffer the brunt of incorrect or uneducated choices their parents make for them. If you picked the first bag of pet food you saw on the shelf or merely based on how fancy the packaging looked, you’ve made an irresponsible choice. Neither is your pet going to be impressed by the packaging of the food nor eat the bag. You neglected what matters; that what goes into the bag. Make it a habit to always read labels before you buy anything for your pet to consume.
Likewise, hiring a dog walker to take your dog out to their business once or twice a day is a very brainless solution to your pet’s daily exercise needs. Your pet’s heartbeat needs to be racing for at least 20 minutes continuously for him to burn any amount of calories. If you assumed your dog walker cares about how many calories your pet is burning, the joke’s on you.
- Overpampering aka Andha Pyaar
As the famous saying goes, “When you look at something with rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags”. We like our children chubby and pets chubbier. Often, pet parents wouldn’t even agree to their pet being overweight because to them s/he is just “healthy”. As Indians, we are conditioned to overfeed people to show them we love them. And we apply the same to our pets too. An unreasonable number of treats, human food offered every time we have a meal, tidbits throughout the day, may not seem like a lot but honestly, they are. The over-humanization of pets even makes tough parenting very difficult in times where one really needs to pull their socks up.
ALSO READ: The How-To’s, Why’s and When’s of Walking your Dog
These setbacks, however, are the easiest to solve since it’s all in your hands. You’ve got to take control of your life, your choices and decisions – knowing that they have a direct and dire impact on your pet’s life.
2. Veterinary Care
The problem gets graver and deeper when the professionals you rely on are also not the best or most reliable source of information. The study for basic veterinary care for pets in India is still naive and not very evolved. Practitioners too, sometimes, have their own beliefs and bias they stand by over honest medical study.
When dealing with a generation of new, inexperienced but curious pet-parents, vets form a crucial part of the ecosystem taking on the responsibility for how a whole generation of pets leads their lives. Unfortunately – in most cases, if not all – vets fail to educate pet parents about the changes that need to occur in their pet care during various stages of life. For instance, a pet’s diet needs to be altered after they have been sterilized, the diet also needs to change as per the pet’s age.
Many breeds are prone to multiple health problems. Making the parents aware of these from the beginning can help them keep their eyes and ears open to avoid, spot and treat such issues in time.
In a situation where vets are treated as the god-sent for pets, and the god-sents are complacent – it is very obvious that the quality of life our pets live will not be optimal.
ALSO READ: The Evolution and Types of Dogs: How to Choose your Next
3. Your Pet’s Diet
It needs no explanation to understand that what and how much your pet eats has a direct correlation to their weight. Most pets in our country feed on packaged, commercial, dry pet food. Basically, the worst food a pet could be eating.
We don’t say that baselessly. Let’s have a look at the label of a common pet food brand.
Source: (L) Official Pedigree Amazon.in listing, (R) Actual photograph of Pedigree Chicken and Vegetables Adult Dog Food Bag
The Salt Divider Test
One argument pet parents often present is that packaged pet foods are nutritionally balanced and abide by the regulations of AAFCO or similar agencies in their processing. If so is this case, then AAFCO has two basic guidelines. One, ingredients are to be mentioned from highest to lowest in quantity. And two, not more than 1% Salt.
Assuming Pedigree abides by these, means that any ingredient mentioned after salt is less than 1% in quantity.
Source: Actual photograph of Pedigree Chicken and Vegetables Adult Dog Food Bag
If we take a closer look at the label now, we see that the only vegetables in Pedigree Chicken *and Vegetables* are less than 1% of Carrot Powder and Peas Powder. That would be as good as a thin slice of carrot and about one or two peas in an entire 1.2 kg bag.
On the left side of salt are just multiple by-products and fillers. Cereals and cereal by-products form the majority of what is in the bag. Whoever spoke of feeding biologically appropriate food.
If you’ve bought your dawgie this bag, you know how the kibble inside are extremely colorful. We’re sure the less than 1% Carrot and Pea Powder did not color multiple kibble in the bag bright red and green. But there aren’t any colors mentioned on the ingredients list! On a side note, did you know the colors used in pet foods even have carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and that dawgies can’t really tell red from green?
ALSO READ: Are Dogs Really Colorblind? Here’s How your Dog Sees the World
There are NO regulations in India, neither on what goes inside a Pet Food, nor on labeling it right. A pet-food manufacturer’s dream! Hence, most pet foods in our country will have labels like above that carefully leave out mentioning the highly problematic ingredients. Or like this!
Source: Official Drools Amazon.in listing
Ever wondered how this bag manages to remain on the shelf for months without any preservatives? It’s not because it’s free of preservatives, they just conveniently didn’t mention them on the label.
ALSO READ: How Commercial Pet Foods are made: The Risks and Impacts of Packaged Pet Food
While the food itself is a key issue, how much pets eat is another. Most parents are unaware of the right quantity to feed to their pets. There isn’t a definite math that can help you calculate the right amount. It depends on your particular pet, their life stage, breed, health conditions, physical activity, what you are feeding them, etc. If you have been eyeballing their food, you’re probably overfeeding. Take time out to sit down with your vet to determine how much your pet must eat.
Maintaining Your Pet’s Weight
Keeping your pet at their optimal weight isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It only needs you to make conscious decisions about their life as any responsible parent should. Here are some practices to help keep your pet’s weight in control and even shed some extra kgs.
- Feed Good
Feed your pet a biologically-appropriate, clean, healthy pet food to start with. Refrain from excessive treats and sharing everything you eat. Do your research to find the right diet for your pet. Speak with the service provider and question them to clear doubts you have. Choosing the right diet is a one-time effort that will reward you for years to come. The easiest and cheapest is never the best, neither does the most expensive food mean it’s perfect. Put in the effort to find a good healthy pet food.
- Tire ‘em out
Just like humans, your pet needs to burn off all the calories they consume to maintain their weight. Storage of excess positive energy will always lead to weight gain. If you’re looking at having your pet shed some kgs, they need to burn off more than they consume. A slow walk even four times a day is not enough. Your pet needs to engage in an intensive activity like running for at least 30 minutes a day along with brisk walks. That does sound like a lot, but find fun ways to work out together. It’ll help you both live a healthier life and also strengthen your bond.
A measuring tape, a weighing scale, measuring cups, and spoons are your best friends on your journey to maintaining your pet’s weight. Speak with a qualified vet or pet nutritionist about your weight goals and determine how much your pet needs to be ideally eating. Swear to yourself to not overfeed! Measure every single meal you feed them. It may not look like a lot, but do not compare it to the quantity of food humans eat. Your pet’s system is much smaller and he does not need the same amount of food as you.
Make it a weekly activity to use a measuring tape and wrap it around your pet’s torso where the tummy is and note down the size every week. Also, put them on a weighing scale and note their weight every week. This record will help you assess if what you’re doing in terms of exercise and food is right.
As your pet goes through their life, their needs will change. An adult pet needs far less amount of food than when they were a puppy. A spayed or neutered pet also needs an immediate alteration in the quantity of food they’ve been eating. DawgieBowl makes it extremely easy for pet parents to make these changes in their pet’s diet.
ALSO READ: Pet Food 101: How to Pick the Best Pet Food for your Dog or Cat
ALSO READ: Pet Sterilization: The Benefits and Risks of Spaying or Neutering
Is my Dog or Cat Fat?
A good way to assess your pet’s condition is by using the Body Condition Score System. The BCS System was developed in 1997 by Nestle Purina. It is very easy to understand and score your dog or cat on. The chart ranges in score from 1 to 9; 1 being emaciated to 9 being obese. You need to simply look at your dog from the top and side, and feel his ribs to understand where he stands on the scale. A 5 is the ideal you must be striving towards – palpable ribs with a slight fat covering, a minimal abdominal fat pad and an observable waist dip behind the ribs when seen from the top.
If your pet scores a 4 or 5 on the BCS chart, you’re doing really well! But even a 6 is an alarm that you must start making reforms right away. The key to this scale working right is only you being honest to yourself. If your pet needs help, reach out to your vet or nutritionist in time before things get worse.
Weight Management Dog and Cat Food
One of the first instinctive things to do once you realize your pet is overweight is to start looking for weight loss diet food for them. But do packaged weight management diets really work?
The science behind getting your pet to reduce weight is to decrease their intake of calories. This is done by increasing the fibre content in the food and reducing carbohydrates and fats.
Most commercial weight management diets do adhere to the above logic. Except, what’s a great way to stuff food by-products usually unsuitable for human consumption than a high-fibre diet? Ingredients like Pea Fiber, Dried Tomato Pomace, Oat Fiber, and Dried Beet Pulp among others, usually make their way into weight management diets.
The difference in percentage of carbohydrates too is not very high. Like in Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Barley recipe (regular diet) vs Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight (weight management diet). When you take a look at their nutritional analysis, you realise there’s merely a 9.6% difference in the carbs among the two.
Practically, an obese pet will not partake in intensive working out because of their body condition. Which in turn means not much carbs will be burnt throughout the day. These carbs, when not burnt, turn into fats. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see your pet gaining weight instead of losing on commercial weight management diets.
Among all the mechanical ways of losing weight, a very important share comes down to the basics. Ingredients matter, freshness matters! You may have seen a difference in the way your body looks and feels when you eat home cooked or fresh healthy food instead of packaged processed food. The same applies to your pet. There’s only so far you can go trying to have your pet get to a healthy weight on an obviously unhealthy diet.
Source: (L) hillspet.com, (R) dawgiebowl.com
Above are the ingredients in Hill’s Prescription Diet r/d Canine Weight Reduction, a very commonly prescribed weight management diet. Next to it are the ingredients in DawgieBowl’s regular recipe. It is very obvious to tell which one your pet needs to be consuming for better overall health. In fact, for all valid reasons your pet could lose weight effectively on the regular DawgieBowl food better than they ever would on the Hill’s Prescription Weight Reduction Diet.
This also reiterates that if your pet is feeding on a healthy diet in the first place, a lot of future damage can be avoided. Prevention is better than cure, isn’t it?
Our pets are alive, like you and us. What makes it alright to take negligent life decisions for them then? When you bring home a dog or cat you take up the responsibility to provide them with a happy, healthy, long life. Fulfilling that oath needs you to make conscious and aware choices for them. Obesity starts with a few extra pounds and a “healthy” looking dog. Don’t let your parental love blindsight you from seeing the truth.
FOR INFORMATION ONLY – NOT VETERINARY CARE
DawgieBowl operates this online information and opinion blog for educational and entertainment purposes only. The contents of this blog are researched from popular journals & books, online articles, and research papers. DawgieBowl does not claim ownership to the images or videos on the blog unless mentioned. Images or videos are collected from the public domain, and the rights to them lie with the photographer or copyright owner. By reading this blog or using any of the information you expressly acknowledge and understand that there are risks and limitations associated with any advice, recipes, formulas, and/or products suggested or endorsed. DawgieBowl, its parent entities, and stakeholders are not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this website, or any other site or product linked to this website, whether from errors or omissions in the content of our website or any other linked site, from downtime on the website or from any other use of this blog.
The content of this blog is NOT intended to substitute professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If your pet is sick, injured, or in need of medical attention, please contact your veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital immediately. Never disregard professional veterinary advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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