Pandemic pets have piled on the pounds too
Lots of people have come out of lockdown with a few extra pounds to lose – and it seems that the same is true for our pets, indicating a worrying trend.
PDSA’s annual PAW Report into the health and wellbeing of the nation’s dogs, cats and rabbits has noted: “an association between lockdown and deepening rates of pet obesity, which, when set against a backdrop of an existing pet obesity epidemic, raises long-term concerns and implications for pets.” The stats speak for themselves:
- 8% of dog owners stated their pet gained weight during lockdown, potentially affecting 790,000 dogs across the UK
- 6% of cat owners said their pet gained weight, with 17% admitting to giving their feline friends more treats
- 14% of rabbit owners confessed to feeding more treats in lockdown than before
So, what can we do to help our portly pets get back in shape?
Burgess in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes advises: “Arrange a pet check-up with your vet so that they can assess if your pet is overweight, how much they need to lose to get to a healthy weight, and help you plan a steady, effective weight loss programme. This is likely to include accurate portion control and encouraging your pet to become more active. It’s important to avoid giving pets leftovers from meals as lots of human food can actually be harmful to pets, or dishing out too many treats. There are lots of other ways we can reward our pet friends, such as by playing games, going for an exciting walk, or just giving them plenty of attention.”
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
In general, dogs who are at a healthy weight have an ‘hourglass’ figure when looked down upon from above. The abdomen should be narrower than the chest and hips and they should look ‘tucked up’, which means that a dog’s chest is closer to the ground than the belly when he or she is standing. Ribs should not be readily visible but are easily felt with light pressure. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has a handy Dog Size-O-Meter, which you can check out here >>
When it comes to cats, Cats Protection advises that “Overweight cats are usually defined as being more than 15% over their ideal weight and obese cats are more than 30% over their ideal weight. You should be able to feel your cat's ribs easily when you stroke their body lightly and you should clearly see a waistline when you look at them from above.” The PFMA has Cat Size-O-Meter you can download here >>. International Cat Care also has a useful Body & Muscle Condition Score chart that can help you identify if your cat is very thin, thin, normal, overweight or obese.
Rabbits who are an ideal weight should have hip bones, ribs and spine that can be easily felt but are rounded, not sharp, no abdominal bulge and a flat rump area. When viewed from above, your rabbit should be shaped like a pear, with slimmer waist and shoulders. If the body looks rectangular and box shaped, your bunny may be carrying excess fat. Check out the PMFA’s Rabbit Size-O-Meter here >>
What foods can help my pet lose weight?
Burgess Pet Care has developed a range of ‘light’ foods for dogs, cats, and rabbits that you can incorporate into your pet’s weight loss programme. However, switching diets is something that has to be done gradually, to avoid upset tummies, and you should plan to do this over a couple of weeks.
- Supadog Finest Adult Light Chicken is specially created for overweight adult dogs. It contains L-Carnitine – a naturally occurring amino acid derivative involved in metabolism – to help reduce, and then maintain your pet’s weight at the correct level and can be fed from 12 months. Find out more about how much to feed your dog >>
- Our advanced, high protein and award-winning Burgess Neutered Cat recipe contains the essential nutrients and vitamins suitable for neutered cats of all ages and is high in protein to maintain lean muscle mass and includes L-carnitine to help maintain a healthy weight, Cats naturally eat little and often. Try splitting their daily intake into several small meals (unless advised otherwise by your vet). You can find more feeding tips based on weight and life stages on each Burgess Cat Food product page
- Excel Light Rabbit Nuggets With Mint is a complementary calorie-controlled food, naturally high in Beneficial Fibre, that will help reduce and control a rabbit’s weight at the correct level, contains a natural prebiotic for digestive health and is fortified with vitamins and minerals for healthy eyes, skin and coat. Nuggets should make up just 5% of your bunny’s daily diet, which is about one egg cup a day, along with 15% of rabbit-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs and 85-90% unlimited grass or high quality feeding hay. You can find more rabbit nutritional advice and details of the Excel 5 Stage feeding plan, recommended by vets, here >>
How much should I feed my pet?
How much your pet needs to eat depends on their age, lifestyle, and health – and accurate weighing of food portions is essential to help your pet lose weight and, once they’ve reached their goal, to maintain a healthy weight.
- Use a kitchen scale to weigh out the correct daily amount of food as outlined on the packaging or use a dry-food measuring cup. Don’t estimate as this is the easiest way to overfeed
- Place the weighed or measured-out food into a storage container. Whether you feed your pet twice, three times or more a day, take the amount from their daily ration in the container so you’ll know they’re getting just the right amount of food – not too much and not too little
Controlling food portions can make a big difference to managing your pet’s weight:
- Always follow the product’s feeding guide, which will be on the pack. You may need to adjust the amount you feed depending on your pet’s age, neuter status, breed, and lifestyle
- Avoid human food and table scraps. According to animal charity Blue Cross, a slice of buttered toast to a Cocker Spaniel provides about a sixth of their daily calorie requirement – the equivalent of two bags of crisps for a person. A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent of one and a half chocolate bars to a person and a chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell is almost the same as a portion of chips to a person
- Treats should never make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie intake. If you do provide treats, always reduce the size of your pet’s meal
- Weigh your pet regularly – at least once a month
- Remember that treats should be just that – something special, fed occasionally, in small amounts
If you’d like more feeding advice, call our helpful expert team on 0800 413 969. They’re available 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, use our online form to get in touch.
How can I encourage my pet to be more active?
Ensuring your pets have enough exercise is as important as feeding them correctly – the more they move the more calories they burn. Build up increased physical activity slowly, don’t overexercise them when it’s hot and always provide plenty of cool, fresh water to keep your pets hydrated. For very young or older animals, or those with health issues, ask your vet for advice on exercising safely.
While all dogs need daily exercise, how much depends on their breed, age, health and even their personality. Even dogs of the same breed may have different requirements – one dog might enjoy endless country walks, while another prefers playing games in the park. PDSA has these top exercise tips:
- You don’t have to do it all in one go, in fact it’s better to split activity time into several shorter sessions over the day
- Vary your route to keep your walks interesting and exciting
- As well as at least one walk daily, also mix in plenty of playtime and training into your dog’s regular routine
- Don’t rush your dog on walks and always allow them to stop and have a good sniff around – this is important for their mental health. Find out why having a good sniff is super important to your canine pal >>
- Dogs should also be able to spend some off-lead time in a secure area. If this is your garden, make sure it’s a good size for your breed (large breeds need big gardens) and is dog-proof
Your vet will be able help you work out the best plan of action to help your cat lose weight. This may include cutting down portion sizes, encouraging your cat to work for their food by putting kibble inside treat balls and playing more games with them to help them become more active.
- In the wild, cats have to work for their food, which exercises their bodies and stimulates their minds. According to feline welfare charity International Cat Care, cats would naturally spend up to six hours a day foraging, stalking, and catching prey, eating around 10 or more mice, probably involving about 30 attempts at capture
- Food dished out twice a day in a bowl in the kitchen presents no kind of challenge. Providing it in feeding balls or cat puzzles can deliver a much more exciting and rewarding experience for your cat
Not getting enough exercise is a real problem for pet bunnies and can cause health issues, such as obesity, along with behavioural problems. Astonishingly, a wild rabbit would run about five miles a day. Ideally, rabbits should be able to exercise whenever they want to, but a minimum of four hours free run time a day is recommended, split into two exercise periods, morning and evening, of about two hours each. As well as a chance to run, buns need an exciting space where they can hop, jump, explore and forage and do all the things that come naturally to bunnies.
- To encourage them to be more active, give your bunnies plenty of things to do – tunnels to run through, toys to investigate and play with and a chance to dig. A shallow tray filled with potting compost is ideal
- As prey animals, rabbits also need constant access to safe hiding places where they can escape if they feel afraid, as well as platforms from which they hop on and off to can scan their environment for threats, which is also good exercise for them
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