obese black and white cat on grass as head image for national pet obesity day

National Pet Obesity Day in NZ

National Pet Obesity Day is on 13 October and here’s the thing: it’s not about celebrating obese pets. Instead, it’s about raising awareness around the risks involved with pet obesity. National Pet Obesity Day is a great excuse to take a good honest look at your pet’s weight and condition, then come up with a plan if they need to shift a few kilos.  

Even if your pet is in perfect health and condition now, it doesn’t harm to educate yourself around pet obesity. That way, you can implement preventative measures as they age or if you start seeing a little bit more bulge than you’d like on your dog or cat.

Why we need a National Pet Obesity Day

We all love our pets. Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, it’s a given you want the best for them. Yet, over a third of Kiwi pets are overweight. And the problem is growing.

Pet obesity can lead to other illnesses

A pet being overweight isn’t cute, even though you might enjoy the chubby photos. An overweight pet can become an obese pet before you know it.

Obesity in pets can cause a host of health issues, including:

Obesity results in reduced life expectancy, but it also means your pet has a lower quality of life while they’re around. They move around less easily, tire more quickly when playing, and are more susceptible to other health issues.

Pet obesity advice from a HUHA vet

We spoke to HUHA vet Dr Joanne Lonergan for advice on keeping your pet at an ideal weight. She says it’s quite common for vets to encounter overweight or obese pets. But that doesn’t mean the knock-on effects are any less heart breaking.

But the good news is, it’s not irreversible. This National Pet Obesity Day, there are four main ways Dr Lonergan suggests you can treat (and/or prevent) weight gain and obesity in pets.

obese pug on stool

1. Stop eyeballing portions

Just like with humans, one of the key facets of weight management is ensuring you exercise portion control and understand what balance of food types are needed. For example, just because you have to feed 150 grams of one food, it doesn’t mean you have to feed the same amount of another.

Make sure you’re either consulting with a vet or following the guidelines of the food manufacturer. But remember, you need to feed them based on their ideal weight, which you can calculate using an online tool or by talking with your vet. Don’t feed an overweight pet based on their actual weight, as they’ll be in a calorie surplus!

Dr Lonergan mentions something which we think almost all pet owners are guilty of: measuring their food by eye. Initially, you might weigh your pet’s food but we tend to quite quickly measure by eye, using a cup or even just filling the bowl until it looks about right.

As Dr Lonergan says, “our eyes can be pretty bad at assessing the correct amounts.” So, you should either use a proper feed scoop or a set of scales. You might be surprised at how much you’re giving your cat or dog.

2. Don’t forget the treats

This is yet another National Pet Obesity Day principle which could apply to humans too.

That occasional handful of nuts, glass of wine, bread before dinner at a restaurant, or dressing on a salad quickly adds up even if you don’t really “count” it as part of your daily diet. The same goes for pets. Those biscuits, bits of meat from your plate, or snatched-up dropped chips all count towards their daily calories.

If you feel mean when you don’t give in to those pleading eyes or pitiful meows, you’re not alone. After all, it’s a great way to bond with your pet and everyone wants to treat their loved ones. However, Dr Lonergan explains that “you don’t have to stop giving your pets treats” but need to “be mindful of what you’re feeding them.”

In fact, she says her own dogs are very good at begging their way to an extra treat!

Plus, you don’t have to go with the high calorie treats. Plenty of cats and dogs will be pleased with a piece of carrot or apple, or a little lean meat or fish. That way, you can give more regular treats than you would if you were feeding them fatty things like cheese or pork, for example.

3. Be honest about exercise

If you can practically hear your pet shouting “I AM in shape! Round is a shape!” it might be time to address their exercise levels this National Pet Obesity Day.

Getting enough exercise is crucial to your pet’s health, as well as their weight management. When pets are very young, it’s important not to overdo exercise as you risk straining their bones and joints too much. But it’s still important they get those steps in. Read about the best puppy games to play to find out how much and what types of exercise puppies should be doing.

Once your dog or cat is an adult, they’ll need regular exercise. How much they require is largely individual. Some breeds need more exercise than others, and some pets who have less daily stimulation might require more exercise than another pet of the same breed, for instance.

A Border Collie needs tons of exercise to stay healthy and happy, whereas a Pug or Bulldog needs far less. Cats tend to have less variation in exercise needs than dogs, but still make an effort to play with them. Or even take your cat for walkies – here’s how to train a cat to walk on a leash, if you think you’d both enjoy it.

4. Don’t shy away from weight issues

Finally, Dr Lonergan says you have to be open and accepting in order to do better by your pet. It’s easy to feel offended or be defensive if a vet brings up your pet’s weight. National Pet Obesity Day is a helpful reminder for all pet owners to check their pet’s weight, though your vet will likely bring it up at any time of the year if they feel there’s a problem.

It might seem hurtful at first, but when you consider the consequences of your pet being overweight or obese, tackling the problem really is an expression of love. If you feel bad or guilty about your pet being overweight, don”t go into denial. Try to see past that and use your emotions as fuel for a more proactive approach to your pet’s weight management.

fat cat lying on scales for national pet obesity day

Celebrate with pet insurance

Do you want to recognise National Pet Obesity Day this year? Good! First thing’s first, book a check up with the vet to make sure your pet is a healthy weight.

Then, investigate getting your cat or dog a pet insurance plan. Taking out a policy early when your pet is healthy and strong gives you wider cover if things do go wrong later down the road. And if they’re deemed overweight or at risk of health issues, you won’t be left without a safety net.

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