We love our fur babies - and it seems, sometimes we love them a bit too much... if that's possible.
More pets than ever before have joined their 'furever' homes during the last year. There was a huge 7.5 million Google searches for 'new pet' across 2020, in part due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
However, the lockdowns have also impacted the health of our pets both new and old, as many people have become more sedentary - venturing out for exercise less often and perhaps offering food treats to bored pets more often.
Even before the pandemic, pet podginess was a problem. Pre-pandemic statistics showed that over 50 per cent of pets were overweight and 90 per cent of pet parents with an overweight pet didn't realise that their pet was overweight.
Hill's Pet Nutrition Australia analysed over 4,000 pet obesity-related Google search terms to uncover the nation's most frequently asked questions on the topic in order to work out exactly what is concerning pet parents right now.
The research found a 24 per cent rise in concern regarding pet obesity compared to the previous year, highlighting a need to tackle the knowledge gap amongst owners about optimal pet health.
These are the seven most searched for questions:
- Is my pet overweight?
- How much should I feed my dog?
- How much should I feed my cat?
- Why is pet obesity a problem?
- Is pet obesity getting worse?
- Is there any difference in obesity between cats and dogs?
- How can pet obesity be fixed?
Consulting Veterinarian, Dr Jessica Mills has provided some expert tips to answer these questions.
Top 10 tips to support pets' healthy weight management:
- Know your starting point - A healthy weight can vary between breeds and species, and you need to know what's ideal for your pet type. Typically, you should weigh your dog or cat in kilos and keep this figure in your pet's health file as a clear starting point
- Calculate exact calories - You need to know how many calories your dog or cat requires in order to maintain a healthy balance; consider age, weight, activity level and breed type amongst other things. Feeding guides on food packages are just that, a guide. Your pet's feeding amount may need to be adjusted to support their individual requirements. The team at your local veterinary clinic will be able to help determine your pet's ideal body weight and energy requirements
- Provide a good quality diet - A nutritious diet can make a huge difference in your pet's lifelong health and happiness. Nutrition not only impacts your pet's weight, but also contributes to healthy digestion, strong bones and a beautiful coat. Precisely balanced nutrition is key to any pet's weight management journey
- Make sure you measure meals - Many pet owner's simply 'guestimate' when it comes to feeding both dogs and cats the right amount. Weighing out your pet's food is the most accurate way to measure their food, but using the measuring cup provided by the manufacturer can also keep you on the right track. The feeding guide on the pack will provide you with a good starting point. Alternatively, your veterinary health care team or manufacturer's helpline can help you determine the ideal amount to be feeding your pet
- Free Feeding - Can result in an 'all-day buffet' with owners constantly keeping the pet bowl full, and whilst you may think you're keeping your pet happy, you may be contributing to those extra kilos through too much readily available kibble
- Try to switch out 'treats - Don't feed table scraps to your pet, especially if they are trying to lose weight. It might seem like a little 'here and there' but for some pets, it can be the equivalent of a whole meal. In human calorie terms, 28 g of cheddar cheese is the equivalent of 1.5 burgers for your 9 kg dog or 3.5 burgers for your 4.5 kg cat! Instead, get into the habit of rewarding good behaviour with fun, not with food. Pay your pet extra attention and affection with more cuddles, walks or playtime
- Use food as a way to nourish body and mind - Many pets will overeat when they are bored. Puzzle feeders or treat balls can be used to help keep your pet mentally active and slow down their eating habits by making them work for their food
- For dogs - Look at simple ways to increase their exercise. Maybe it's possible to add a couple of extra walks a week or increase the length of your daily walk. Or maybe you can change the route so they are exercising more intensely - going up hills or stairs are great to burn calories. Another great option is to find games they like such as fetch so that you both enjoy these daily exercise sessions
- For cats - Simple games such as "hunting" the light can encourage them to move more. Simply shine a torch on the floor and walls and the natural movement will encourage your pet to chase it. For cats that love their food, puzzle feeders and dividing the meal around the house can encourage more movement whilst they eat - in fact you can actually teach your cat to hunt for their food by hiding it around the house
- Make it a family affair - Ensure that everyone involved in your pet's care is aware of any changes to diet, exercise or health regime. That way, it will be a lot easier for your pet to keep to their required plan and you will be more likely to stay on track as everyone can join together, to encourage a healthier lifestyle
- Know what's normal - It is important to have a base understanding of what is normal when it comes to the weight and size of your pet, just like you would do with your own body. Make sure you are regularly performing health checks and you know signs to look out for. Unexpected or sudden weight loss or weight gain could be an indicator of underlying disease and a good reason to check in with your vet
- Take it slowly - At the end of the day, healthy weight management for your cat or dog is a lifestyle change. Remember there is no quick fix and that nothing happens overnight. But by looking at the diet and exercise regime of your pets, you can help keep them healthy and happy for many years to come.
Full study findings along with expanded advice can be found here