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How to keep your pet in prime condition

How to keep your pet in prime condition
This article contains: Cat Dog Diet

In Britain, around two-thirds of us are classified as either overweight or obese and now, it seems, half of our pets are overweight too.

While breed, age and gender can all have an influence on your pet’s tendency to put on weight, the RSPCA says that the main reason for this obesity crisis is that the food they eat contains more energy than they use up. ‘The figures are alarming,’ says Michael Bellingham, Chief Executive of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), ‘and the problem won’t go away without a fundamental shift in owners’ attitude to feeding their pets.’ According to the PFMA, around one in five pet owners use trial and error, rather than manufacturers’ guidelines when feeding their pets. Titbits, too, are taking their toll. A survey, reported in The Observer, indicated that a 10 per cent surge in the number of overweight pets in the previous year alone was due to owners misguidedly giving them too many high-calorie treats.

And it seems that love is blind when it comes to realising that our pets are piling on the pounds. Another survey by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) found that while eight out of 10 owners believed their pet was the right weight, only 33 per cent of dog owners and 23 per cent of cat owners chose the ‘normal’ weight picture from a series as the one that looked most like their pet. So it seems that many of us are unaware what ‘normal weight’ looks like for our pets, and only a quarter of those surveyed said they had sought advice on whether their pets were overweight. If you are unsure whether your pet is overweight, have a look at the quick weight checks below or consult your vet.

The PFMA survey also revealed that even when owners could see that their pets were overweight, the majority believed that there was little, or nothing, they could do about it. But while we may be killing our pets with kindness, there is lots we can do in terms of good nutrition and exercise to get them in the best possible shape for a long, healthy and happy life. Read on to find out more...

When feeding your pet, it’s vital to ensure that you are providing a diet appropriate for her age, breed and lifestyle.

Nottinghamshire-based trainer Wendy Hill says: ‘Don’t just follow the pet food manufacturer’s guidelines. Pets, like people, have different metabolisms.’ So monitor your pet’s weight and judge if you need to adjust her portions – if in doubt, consult your vet. If your pet is obese, your vet will devise a weight-loss and exercise plan that will need careful monitoring. Remember it can be dangerous for animals to lose weight too quickly. Once your pet has reached her target weight, she may then need to go onto a ‘light’ food diet.

Different people in the household feeding a pet can also be a problem. Wendy says: ‘One family member may be carefully keeping the cat on a diet, while another slips her treats.’ Encourage your children to spend time playing with their pet rather than feeding them titbits. Remember that what seems like a ‘small treat’ to us is considerably bigger for our pet, because every excess gram is a greater percentage of his overall weight.

Cat experts are now recommending that owners put the feeding bowl in different places, so your cat has to ‘hunt’ for her supper. Vicky Halls, cat behaviourist and author of The Complete Cat also recommends puzzle feeding. Try buying balls with holes in them, which dispense kibbles one by one as the cat plays with them, or Trixie’s Cat Activity Fun Board to exercise the cat’s mind, as well as her paws. Or you can make your own puzzle feeders from cardboard egg boxes; even a paper bag with the top folded over can be a challenge.

Physical exercise is also vital for your cat’s good health, especially for an indoor cat left alone much of the day.

Make sure she gets some exercise when ‘home alone’ by putting her litter tray and food as far away as possible, ideally making her use any stairs, and get her a climbing frame or ‘cat tree’. ‘Play with her for at least 15 minutes a day in short bursts,’ advises cat expert Vicky Halls. Older or overweight cats may need more motivation. Toys full of catnip or ‘fishing rods’ with a fluffy toy bait get most cats feeling playful. Or for something more high-tech, how about a remote-controlled mouse or, if your cat’s game, a cat exercise-wheel? ‘Whatever she plays with, ensure she can’t swallow or choke on her plaything,’ adds Vicky.

Quick weight checks

To monitor your pet’s weight, carry out these RSPCA-recommended checks regularly:

  • Can you see and feel the outline of your pet’s ribs without excess fat covering?
  • Can you see and feel your pet’s waist, and is it clearly visible when viewed from above?
  • Does your pet’s belly look ‘tucked up’ when viewed from the side?

If your pet doesn’t pass these weight checks or you have concerns about your pet’s weight, it’s always best to consult your vet.

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