Happy New Year to all of our followers! We hope you have had a great Christmas. With any festive period, there is always the opportunity to indulge for us as well as our pets. Whilst this is very much enjoyed at the time, it can leave us all needing to get back into shape as the New Year comes around. We thought we’d help with some top tips to help the resolutions get started for your dogs, cats and small animals!
Whilst monitoring weight changes in your pet is helpful, there is so much breed variation that ideal breed weights don’t really give an accurate target weight for your pet. Body condition scoring can be much more useful for tracking your pet’s weight changes and their appearance. The main idea is to assess your pet in some key areas – mainly fat cover over their hips, ribs and spines and their appearance of their waist. Often body condition scoring requires a visual and hands on inspection. Body condition score or BCS is measured on a scale of 1 being very thin to 5 being obese. We’ve included some body condition score charts at the end of the blog for you to have a look at.
With any weight reduction plan, it is important to take your time. We would first recommend a trip to your vets so they can ensure your pet has no underlying health conditions or reasons why they may gain weight in the first place. Conditions such as underactive thyroid or Cushings disease in dogs can lead to weight gain and are worth ruling out. Once your vet has ruled out any underlying conditions, they will be able to assess whether your pet is able to manage the exercise suggested to help them lose weight.
Weight clinics at your vet practice can help to give a regular point of contact and check-up. They should be able to help you score your pet’s body condition and advise you on an ideal target weight for your pet. They can also help with how much food should be given at each meal which will be based on their target weight, rather than their current weight. Feeding two or three times a day, by splitting your pet’s total daily allowance, can reduce hunger. Veterinary prescription calorie controlled diets are usually very effective but normally require supervision to ensure the weight is not lost too quickly. Food diaries can also be a great start to monitor what you’re feeding your pet. EVERYTHING should be recorded in here so we can look at what needs to be cut out or cut down on.
For dogs, and most other animals, they can safely lose 1% of their body weight weekly if they are overweight. This means a 40kg dog would aim to lose 0.4kg a week, which means 1.6kg a month. Weight reduction should always be a plan and not rushed, as losing weight too quickly can be harmful to your pet. This means it might take months but the end result will be very much worth it. Again weight clinics with your veterinary team can help to keep your pet on track and help if you hit some problems along the way. Most pets who are overweight are 15% heavier than they should be – this means a 40kg overweight dog has 6kg to lose which would be lost safely over a period of 4 months.
Exercise will always help with weight loss but it is important to build it up gradually and only if your pet is able to manage this. Your vet will be able to assess your pet for any stiffness or mobility issues which may prevent them from exercising as much. Dogs like bulldogs and pugs will struggle to breathe if over exercised or if it is too hot so speak to your vet about the best regime for your pet. If your dog is currently a bit of a couch potato then start with short 5-10 minute walks three times a day and over the following weeks you can build this up to 40 minute walks. Little and often is normally a good start. Playing games with your dog can be a great weight to develop your bond with your pet whilst letting them shed a few calories too. Remember to avoid exercise for an hour before or after feeding to try and avoid emergency conditions such as bloat. At this time of year especially be careful if you are walking your dogs on tarmac or pavements. If the areas have been gritted this could cause irritation to your dog’s paws so always wash them off thoroughly after a walk.
For cats and smaller animals it can be difficult to encourage exercise. Notoriously cats like to lounge around, and who can blame them? But for their health, if your cat is overweight it is important to try to stimulate your cats with toys, puzzles and if appropriate some outdoor time. Rabbits and small animals may need to be inside in the colder months, but as spring arrives allowing your pets out in a run can give them a much needed chance to stretch their legs and shed the pounds.
Finally here at the RSPCA Radcliffe Animal Centre, we like to practise what we preach. As part of this, I have signed up for my own challenge for 2019 which should help with the Christmas calories too! At the end of May 2019 I will be running the Edinburgh Marathon, hoping to raise money for charities including our own centre here. My training is well underway and my dogs have already been roped in to helping out. It’s good for both me and my dog Digby! Over the coming months, I’ll be keeping you posted on my progress both training and fundraising.