How to feed for a healthy weight

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Dogs that are overweight suffer extra stress on their joints. PHOTO: Barbara Danázs/Pixabay
Dogs that are overweight suffer extra stress on their joints. PHOTO: Barbara Danázs/Pixabay

by Lynn Broom,
Longmead Veterinary Practice

Maintaining a healthy weight optimises an animal’s ability to remain healthy. We have control over our animal’s food intake and have the abilty to keep them healthy and active.

Fat cats
Obese cats are prone to developing Type II Diabetes. If they suddenly stop eating, they can also suffer from a condition called fatty liver. This is life-threatening – affected cats need help to stimulate their appetite again and may need a feeding tube placed.
Being overweight puts extra stress on a dog’s joints, and fat itself can increase inflammation making, for instance, arthritic joints more painful. Many overweight dogs have a reduced appetite – unless they are labradors – because their body already has more calories than it needs. As a result, many obese dogs appear to be fussy eaters. Fat dogs often lack energy, but weight loss can help regain this.
Being underweight can also cause problems. A dog that is too thin has little or no fat. This can increase injuries because the skin is tight over bones and lacks cushioning. If the dog becomes unwell it has no reserves and can rapidly lose muscle mass. Joints require strong muscles for stability and loss of muscle can increase risk of joint injury.
Cats that are underweight, particularly if they eat well, may have an underlying health condition which should be investigated.

Tailor-made diet
Puppies should be fed according to age, size, breed and exercise levels rather than relying on the feeding plan provided on purchased food. Labradors, for instance, benefit from slow growth to maximise healthy joint development, so avoiding obesity at a young age is beneficial.
Cocker spaniels are very active and often need much more food than feeding guides suggest. Your vet surgery will be happy to provide advice on feeding and body condition.
If your dog is underweight then it is worth ruling out simple causes first. If they are eating well, are not vomiting and don’t have diarrhoea, are up to date with worming and are active, then simply increasing the amount you feed and reweighing them may be all that is needed.
A dog that loses weight unexpectedly can be investigated. It is worth considering causes such as no longer stealing food when an older dog has died or increased exercise during summer weather burning more calories.
Considering the dog’s total calorie intake throughout the day is important to consider reasons for weight gain. You may be weighing your dog’s meals out carefully, but the biscuits given as treats or the food dropped by toddlers can really add up. If extras cannot be avoided or reduced then compensating by reducing meal size is important.
We often love to give our pets treats and this strengthens the bond with them. They are also very useful during training. Using smaller treats or one instead of three can help reduce those extra calories. Again compensate with smaller meals where treats are provided. Dogs are usually much smaller than us, meaning that a biscuit contains much more calories relative to size.
Feeding our pets is a great way to interact with them and show them that we love them. But we can also kill them with kindness and they will be much happier if fed appropriately to maintain a normal body weight.

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