One in five South Africans think an overweight pet is "happy, healthy" and "cute", according to a recent survey. And this seems to be even more so in winter, a time when many owners think that bit of extra padding will come in useful. Unfortunately whatever the season, fat pets tip the scales in the direction of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer and live shorter lives.
"Fat doesn't necessarily insulate well," says Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor to Hill's Pet Nutrition. "In fact overweight pets have poorer circulation and are therefore likelier to feel the cold. There is no benefit to getting fat, but losing weight can give relief to sore joints, which may be stiffer in colder weather. Don’t feel guilty about putting your pet on a diet," he advises. "It is one of the best things you can do for their health at any time of the year."
Fyvie says animals – like humans – tend to want to eat more during winter as their bodies anticipate a need for extra energy to keep warm. But if your pet has been spending colder days indoors, or sleeping, it won't have burnt off the additional calories and as a result will be piling on the extra kilos. "Just a 1% calorie excess can cause obesity over time, so measure your pet's meals," advises Fyvie. "And instead of feeling guilty about not giving them a treat, rather go for a brisk walk or play with them. Getting active will warm you both up."
Assess your pet's weight
Is your pet a healthy size? Ask your vet. A third of owners surveyed didn't know how to assess weight correctly. Should your pet have a few extra kilograms, ask your vet about joining a weight management programme. Hundreds of veterinary practices around the country run special Hill's Pet Slimmer clinics to help their plus-size patients slim to better health. Using similar principles to Weight Watchers the special diet, regular weigh-ins, rewards, encouragement and expert advice will help keep you and your cat or dog on track.
What you are feeding, not just the quantity, can also make a big difference. Many owners struggle with feeding smaller quantities of "light" foods, and give in when their seemingly-hungry pet begs piteously. There are scientifically formulated weight loss foods available that use dietary fibre and protein to ensure your pet's tummy feels fuller for longer. Not all weight-loss diets are equal. In a recent study which evaluated pet foods marketed for weight loss, there was a wide variation in recommended calorie intake, kilocalories and cost. In the 44 canine diets tested, the calorie density ranged from 217 to 440 kcal/cup! And findings were similar in the feline diets tested – with a variance of 235 to 480 kcal/cup.
In addition to enjoying better health and a longer life, pets on the Hill's Pet Slimmer programme that reach their target weight by 31 August are eligible to enter the national Hill's Pet Slimmer of the Year Competition. In 2009 yellow Labrador Boomer Hoek from Jeffrey's Bay was so overweight – at a massive 63kgs - that some family members said it would be kinder to euthanase him. Instead he lost 22kgs in just under 12 months using Hill's Prescription Diet r/d and won the 2010 Hill's Pet Slimmer of the Year competition. Losing more than a third (35%) of his bodyweight turned life around for Boomer. "Now this once inactive and uncomfortable dog is lean and lively and enjoys his life again!" said owner Louis Hoek. "We are so glad we did not agree to put him to sleep."
For more advice on how to help your pet rediscover its sleeker silhouette, or to find a participating Hill's Pet Slimmer clinic in your area log onto www.petslimmer.co.za. From 15 September to 31 October you will also find inspiring pics and stories of the 2011 finalists in the Hill’s Pet Slimmer of the Year. You can vote for your favourite and help choose this year's winner!
- Issued by Paula Wilson Media Consulting for Hill’s Pet Nutrition