Snack Attack!

My gorgeous Brian as a cheeky kitten, not an endorsement to feed kittens to dogs!

Some of you are hopefully very aware of the massive obesity epidemic that is sweeping the UK and indeed much of the Western world. It’s a problem for humans and animals alike and vets report obesity as one of their biggest welfare concerns every year. Obesity causes disease in animals just as it does in humans. In cats it is also strongly linked to diabetes which is definitively better prevented than cured. Studies have shown that slim animals live longer so keeping your animal slim not only means they’ll be healthier but that you’ll get more time with your best friend.

As we all know, lots of you (and me sometimes!) give snacks to our pets. This is usually OK as long as it’s less than 10% of their weekly ration to keep their diet balanced and also that you’re giving safe snacks. Remember that many humans foods can be toxic to animals. The trouble is that little titbits here and there very easily add up. As a vet we often hear people say that they give what they see as low calorie or low fat snacks like carrots for dogs and tuna for cats. The problem is that the amounts can easily escalate and these are still very good calorie sources for animals because they are carbohydrates and proteins.

I recently worked with Compare the Market to make a calorie calculator for you to use to see just how many extra calories you are giving your pets each week. The link is here. What I love is that at the end the calculator will give you the equivalent number of burgers for a man that you’ve given your pet on top of their weekly allowance. It can be quite an eye-opener! By the way, don’t give your pets burgers! Anyway, have fun with this useful tool but also use it to think about healthier options for you and your pets and below are some of my top tips for avoiding those extra calories…

Top Tips for Keeping Pets Slim

• Know your pet’s ideal weight. In recent years overweight animals have become so common that many people think their pet is a normal weight but actually they are overweight. Ask your vet or vet nurse if your animal is the correct weight in the first place. This way you can tackle any weight issues sooner rather than later.

• Always feed a complete and balanced diet and know how much your animal should have. Weigh out their food so you are sure you are getting it right.

• Don’t succumb to guilt! In busy times it’s easy to feel guilty about not spending enough time with your pets and an easy fix for this guilt is to give some tasty treats. This becomes a vicious circle of lack of exercise made worse by extra calories. Show your love instead with a game, some affection or, for dogs, a good healthy walk for both of you.

• Get into good habits early. Avoid giving titbits and feeding your pets from the table right from the start. This way those pleading eyes won’t develop into something you can never say no to. If your pets don’t expect treats they won’t miss them!

• Use part of your pet’s normal daily ration as treats. If that’s not exciting enough ask your vet to recommend a pet-suitable alternative. Other foods/treats should never be more than 10% of your pet’s diet as this can unbalance a complete diet.

• Remember that many human foods like chocolate, raisins, sweeteners and grapes are poisonous to some pets. To be on the safe side always stick to treats that are suitable for the animal you have.

• If you have a pet that always seems hungry talk to your vet about higher fibre, lower calorie foods so you can give a filling amount without the weight gain. Split your dog’s food into 3 or 4 meals through the day. Cats should have 6-8 small meals a day as this suits how they eat in the wild. Timer feeders are excellent for this. Small, frequent meals help your pets feel less hungry. Make sure you’re still only giving the right daily amount, just spread out through the day.

• Feeding wet food like tins or pouches or soaking dry food helps animals feel fuller because of the added water. Some animals won’t eat wet/soaked food but many will and it can really help keep them satisfied.

• Remember that, like us, animals will need very different amounts of food at different times of life and there is quite a bit of individual variation. By having your pet regularly weighed and checked at your local practice you will catch any changes early.

• Slim animals have been proved to live longer than overweight animals. By using these tips, being good and staying strong you will have a happier, healthier pet for as long as possible.

Now I have to get back to work and writing. I have three books to finish by the end of November so I’m feeling the pressure a bit. I’ll try and keep Facebook and Twitter ticking along in the meantime. Bye for now 🙂