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Pets - Nutrition

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The saying is true that 'we are what we eat.' If it rings true for a human, why should it be any different for a pet? Today, our resident Vet, Siobhán O'Malley, tells us how to keep our pets' diets balanced.

According to Royal Canin, 30 to 40% of dogs are overweight. Excess weight can be harmful for health and even longevity. It is therefore necessary to educate yourself on correct pet nutrition so you can react quickly if the problem occurs.

Siobhan O'Malley, Mayo VET

Siobhan has been in practice for 3 yrs and is one of the vets featured on the brand new RTE series 'Vets on Call - (Mayo)'  due for transmission:  Friday 2nd November, RTE One, 8.30pm 

She practices in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo and became a Vet due to her absolute love of Wildlife and Nature.

When she's not up at 4am birthing animals, or wading through muddy fields, Siobhan loves treating herself to Spa treatments and topping up her shoe collection - currently sitting at 150 pairs!

The highs of her job. . .The wildlife, the animals, her love of nature. . . The lows. . .The early starts and the mud!

What is obesity?
Obesity is an accumulation of excess fat in the body as a result of an energy (calorie) intake which exceeds requirements.
Obesity tends to occur in the pet which is less active physically whereas the active pet will tend to discharge the excess.
What are the main factors contributing to animal obesity?

Animal factors which cause obesity include:
1. increased age
2. neutering
3. inactivity
4. overfeeding or an energy intake which exceeds the energy requirements of the animal
5. lack of owner education may lead to overfeeding
6. inappropriately generous feeding guidelines by pet food companies
7. excessive amounts of table scrapes and treats

Most cases of obesity are caused by simply overfeeding and too little exercise. Approximately 70% of a dog's caloric intake is used for maintaining the body. The remaining 30% supplies the energy used for physical activity. When caloric intake exceeds the energy burned, the excess calories are stored as fat. As a dog ages, its metabolism and activity level may decrease, thus reducing the dog's caloric needs.

What health problems can obesity lead to in animals?
Obesity is associated with shortened lifespan, diabetes, disease of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, rheumatism and arthritis. The overweight pet cannot tolerate warm weather, is less able to exercise and will generally have less fun than a lean, healthy pet. Animals 40% above the optimum weight are at risk from the following: Obesity in dogs is a serious medical problem.

Overweight dogs suffer from a number of health problems. Locomotion ailments are very common and may include spinal problems, including disk disorders, arthritis, hip dysplasia and ligament ruptures. Obese dogs are prone to skin disorders, have lowered resistance to infections and viruses and have an increased risk of hypertension. Excess weight places an increased burden on a dog's heart and fatty tissues, and affects blood vessels, which can cause circulatory problems. Breathing is difficult for obese dogs and lung problems are common, as is impaired liver function. Gastrointestinal problems may include constipation, excessive flatulence and pancreatitis. Diabetes is a major threat to obese dogs. During surgery anesthesia levels for an obese dog are more difficult to assess. Surgery takes longer and it is more difficult for obese dogs to wake up after surgery. Overweight breeders have a higher incidence of long and difficult whelps, cesarean sections, emergency spay surgeries and stillborn puppies. Cats suffer with diabetes, arthritis and liver problems.

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
The easiest way to tell whether your dog or cat is in ideal body condition is by feeling the ribcage. The ribs should be easily and clearly felt with little flesh between the fingers when you pinch the skin.

There's no ideal weight chart for all dogs, but as a general rule of thumb, the following is offered as a guide to good body condition:
. Too Thin: The dog's ribs are highly visible.
. Ideal Body Condition: You can feel and see outline of ribs. The dog has a waist when viewed from above. Its belly is tucked up when viewed from the side.
. Too Heavy: You cannot see a waist when viewed from above. Belly is rounded when viewed from the side.

So, what do I do if my pet is overweight?
There is no magic formula to guarantee that a pet will quickly lose weight and become fit. Individual weight loss programs are best undertaken with the supervision of a veterinarian. Here are a few guidelines.

. The most common approach to weight loss is a decrease in caloric intake. Siobhan recommends a 30% reduction in food intake. This reduction will cause a slow and gradual weight loss without harming the pet's normal metabolism. You should gradually introduce a low fat, low protein diet to your cat and feed your cat the recommended amount for its ideal weight, not his/ her ACTUAL weight.

. Overweight cats and dogs are more likely in multi-cat/ dog households as they may finish off food left by the others. You may need to feed these cats separately.

. Never free feed cats. Any food not eaten after 10 minutes should be picked up.

. If your cat is particularly greedy then you may find that smaller more frequent meals help, in the wild cats may eat up to 20 tiny meals per day.

. If you want to give treats to an overweight dog, use carrots, apples or rice cakes. You should cut out all treats and tid-bits for a cat.

. If your pet is active, healthy and slightly overweight, you can increase exercise. I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day for a dog. Walking up inclines and stairs will give your dog a better workout than on a flat surface. An additional ten minute game of fetch may be all it takes to get a slightly overweight dog on track. Play with your cat more often and encourage games.