Pet owners have been urged to actively practise weight management when planning meals for their dogs and cats as obesity cases are on the rise in Ireland.
Irish vet Tim Kirby of PetBond.ie says he would like to see dog nutrition brought back to its very basics as too many products on the market only serve to confuse owners.
“Pet obesity causes massive issues and being a healthy weight is of critical importance, and even more so in the brachycephalic breeds, which are dogs with super short noses like bulldogs, pugs and shih tzus,” he said.
“In those breeds that suffer with exceptionally deformed airways, even being 10 per cent overweight reduces their lifespan by up to four years and really exacerbates the airways issues. In all dog breeds and cats, obesity leads to diabetes and huge issues with spinal and joint osteoarthritis.
“Equally in cats, we never treated much for arthritis in the past but now with some revolutionary medicines available, we see massive improvements in them after treatments. Apart from the medicines we give, one of the most important tasks for owners is to keep the cats’ weight in check.
“This can be tricky as you can’t walk a cat as easily on a lead like you can do with a dog.
“I think there needs to be a bit more awareness of nutrition because there are so many foods available for pets, that people don’t know where to begin and often just grab the first brand they see.”
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Mr Kirby, who runs clinics in Dublin and his native Kerry, says he weighs all pets that come into his surgery, regardless of the problem.
“I pop them up on the scales at every visit and create a graph of the animal’s weight and then I show the owner if it has increased. It brings the conversation to them and gives them insight into any problem.
“It’s a very delicate area. Sometimes pets gain weight because of lifestyle changes or maybe the owner isn’t in a position to walk them as much as they used to do. We all have to be sensitive to a myriad of reasons and give encouragement and support where we can.
The vet believes the complexity of choosing the right food for your pet needs to be reduced.
“I think there is too much information out there right now which leads to confusion when feeding pets so owners often pick up the first thing they see. Or they will pick up treats because they have seen adverts online where the food may have no scientific backing at all,” he said.
“Nutritional education needs to be introduced at the critical point of when the owner gets a new dog. That is when the food habits and amounts of that particular breed need to be relayed.”
“Weight management is one of the most effective and preventative measures for many illnesses and diseases. Most people are well-intentioned and if they realise that obesity is hurting their pet, then they will do everything to address it so they may have their companion for longer in their life,” he said.
Meanwhile, a veterinary nurse who is passionate about animal weight management is also helping owners understand more about the food they give their pets.
Sarah O’Malley said she believes the number of obese pets in the country has risen since Covid-19, with up to 40 per cent of cats, 60 per cent of dogs and 28 per cent of rabbits in Ireland now overweight.
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Ms O’Malley, who runs a pet weight management clinic at MyVet in Dublin’s Firhouse, says owners often don’t realise how weight gain can lead to health problems for their pets.
“Most people are thankfully aware that foods such as chocolate and raisins are toxic to dogs but many don’t realise that 100g of processed chicken or ham is like giving your dog two doughnuts, while 25g of cheese is the same as giving them two-and-a-half hamburgers,” she said.
“I’ve been running this clinic at MyVet for the last 10 years and weight management is a big passion of mine. I would say I’m seeing more overweight pets now than ever before.
“Obesity in animals is a problem now and, I think, has escalated since Covid-19 when people were at home and maybe taking in their first pet.
“Pet owners often don’t realise there are healthy alternatives to giving their dog, cat, rabbit or even horse a treat. They don’t need our delicacies.
“People should ideally weigh their dog or cat food on a digital scale to ensure the proper amounts are given.
“You could also give a dog a carrot, cucumber, courgette, peppers or even unsalted rice cakes as snacks. It’s the texture and the crunch that they like.”
The 32-year-old veterinary nurse said overfeeding a pet can lead to a variety of serious health problems, as well as unnecessary veterinary treatment.
“Extra weight can put all organs under extreme pressure. It can cause a number of conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, high blood pressure and a reluctance to exercise or inability to clean themselves properly.
“Ideally, if a pet is at its ideal body weight, you should be able to lightly graze your fingers along its side and feel the outline of its ribs.”