We hope you have had a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.
With any festive period, there is always the opportunity to indulge for us as well as our pets. Whilst this is very much enjoyed at the time, it can leave us all needing to get back into shape. So we thought we’d help with some top tips to help the resolutions get started for your dogs, cats and small animals!
Whilst monitoring weight changes in your pet is helpful, there is so much breed variation that ideal breed weights don’t really give an accurate target weight for your pet. Body condition scoring can be much more useful for tracking your pet’s weight changes and their appearance. The main idea is to assess your pet in some key areas – mainly fat cover over their hips, ribs and spines and their appearance of their waist. Often body condition scoring requires a visual and hands on inspection. Body condition score or BCS is measured on a scale of 1 being very thin to 5 being obese. We’ve included some body condition score charts at the end of the blog for you to have a look at.
With any weight reduction plan, it is important to take your time. We would first recommend a trip to your vets so they can ensure your pet has no underlying health conditions or reasons why they may gain weight in the first place. Conditions such as underactive thyroid or Cushings disease in dogs can lead to weight gain and are worth ruling out. Once your vet has ruled out any underlying conditions, they will be able to assess whether your pet is able to manage the exercise suggested to help them lose weight.
When possible, weight clinics at your vet practice can help to give a regular point of contact and check-up. They should be able to help you score your pet’s body condition and advise you on an ideal target weight for your pet. They can also help with how much food should be given at each meal which will be based on their target weight, rather than their current weight. Feeding two or three times a day, by splitting your pet’s total daily allowance, can reduce hunger. Veterinary prescription calorie controlled diets are usually very effective but normally require supervision to ensure the weight is not lost too quickly. Food diaries can also be a great start to monitor what you’re feeding your pet. EVERYTHING should be recorded in here so we can look at what needs to be cut out or cut down on.
At the moment weight clinics may be done virtually online or it might be something we manage more at home for now. Depending on the size of your pet we can keep a track on their weight with a set of scales and a device to take photos. Try and take photos in the same positions as your see the animals on body condition score charts; from the side and from above. This will allow easy comparison if you can weigh and take photos on a monthly or even two weekly basis.
For dogs, and most other animals, they can safely lose 1% of their body weight weekly if they are overweight. This means a 40kg dog would aim to lose 0.4kg a week, which means 1.6kg a month. Weight reduction should always be a plan and not rushed, as losing weight too quickly can be harmful to your pet. This means it might take months but the end result will be very much worth it. Again weight clinics with your veterinary team can help to keep your pet on track and help if you hit some problems along the way. Most pets who are overweight are 15% heavier than they should be – this means a 40kg overweight dog has 6kg to lose which would be lost safely over a period of 4 months.
Exercise will always help with weight loss but it is important to build it up gradually and only if your pet is able to manage this. Your vet will be able to assess your pet for any stiffness or mobility issues which may prevent them from exercising as much. Dogs like bulldogs and pugs will struggle to breathe if over exercised or if it is too hot so speak to your vet about the best regime for your pet. If your dog is currently a bit of a couch potato then start with short 5-10 minute walks three times a day and over the following weeks you can build this up to 40 minute walks. Little and often is normally a good start. Playing games with your dog can be a great weight to develop your bond with your pet whilst letting them shed a few calories too. Remember to avoid exercise for an hour before or after feeding to try and avoid emergency conditions such as bloat. At this time of year especially be careful if you are walking your dogs on tarmac or pavements. If the areas have been gritted this could cause irritation to your dog’s paws so always wash them off thoroughly after a walk.
For cats and smaller animals it can be difficult to encourage exercise. Notoriously cats like to lounge around, and who can blame them? But for their health, if your cat is overweight it is important to try to stimulate your cats with toys, puzzles and if appropriate some outdoor time. Rabbits and small animals may need to be inside in the colder months, but as spring arrives allowing your pets out in a run can give them a much needed chance to stretch their legs and shed the pounds.
As the Centre Vet here at RSPCA Radcliffe Animal Centre, I like to practise what we preach and will continue my own challenges for 2021. I keep fit by running and my dogs have developed new skills over lockdown in 2020. My dogs can run with me on a harness now. I’m always in training for events, if they are allowed to resume and my dogs have been roped into helping out too. Whilst running a marathon might be too much, the dogs can normally manage a couple of miles with me as long as we build it up gradually. It’s good for us all!
We wish you all a happy & health 2021, & good luck with all your New Year’s resolutions.