By John Burns BVMS MRCVS – Veterinary Surgeon and founder of Burns Pet Nutrition
In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of giving the correct healthy nutrition to your pet and how difficult that can be. In my opinion, the correct diet is the bedrock of responsible pet health and welfare. Incorrect nutrition is directly or indirectly responsible for causing many of the common health problems affecting pets. Conversely, the correct diet on its own can allow the body to heal itself from these problems. (See John Burns’ Veterinary Guide to Health and Nutrition.) There are very few health problems in which nutrition has no role at all. The difficulty is to find the correct food and to feed it correctly, which is just as important and depends on the pet parent. Social media is awash with misleading claims and information about pet nutrition. This year, The Royal Veterinary College is offering a series of nutrition webinars to the veterinary profession. These are intended to help vets understand better the role of nutrition in disease and how to deal with “controversial topics” such as home cooked, commercial and raw food diets.
The PDSA Animal Wellbeing report (PAW) 2020 reported that the main concerns reported by the veterinary profession were obesity, exaggerated conformation in pedigree dogs, pet behaviour problems and concerns that pet owners did not realise the cost of keeping a pet.
Exaggerated conformation or, not to beat about the bush, dogs with damaging deformities, is one which can be laid at the door of The Kennel Club. As I wrote last time, behaviour problems can be due to diet-related mental health issues. Here, I want to focus on the first of these, namely, obesity.
OBESITY AND EXCESSIVE WEIGHT
Excessive weight is now becoming the norm in UK pets. Around 50% (a figure which increases annually) of dogs are overweight; that’s around 4 million dogs!) For cats, the percentage is even higher.
Over 60% of the human population is overweight or obese. Could this be just one more example of the humanisation of pets?
Obesity is associated with shortened lifespan, disease of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, rheumatism and arthritis. The overweight pet cannot tolerate warm weather, is less able to exercise and will generally have less fun than one which is lean and healthy. Remember that if your beloved pet is seriously overweight, you can expect him or her to suffer serious health problems and die well before their time.
Obesity is an accumulation of excess fat in the body as a result of an energy (calorie) intake which exceeds requirements. Overeating has numerous health consequences, of which excessive weight is one. Chronic overeating, even good quality food, can also lead eventually to many other health problems such as skin disease, gum disease, arthritis, kidney and liver disease and diabetes.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOUR PET IS OVERWEIGHT?
Many owners are surprised when they are told that their dog or cat is overweight
The easiest way to tell is by feeling the ribcage. The ribs should be easily and clearly felt with little flesh between the fingers when you pinch the skin.
Weight Control Management in pets requires a food designed specifically for that purpose, i.e. low fat and low protein. It is not generally effective simply to reduce the quantity of the normal food.
Burns Weight Control is a dry complete food containing oats and has a higher fibre content but in a natural form rather than as an ‘additive’ e.g. cellulose.
The higher fibre means that the dog can feel more full and satisfied by a small volume of food. Food for Weight Control should also ensure excellent general (holistic) health long-term. Ensuring correct body weight is only one part of that. Vegetables (cooked and raw) can safely be included to help fill up the dog.
It is important to check the weight regularly to ensure that the weight reduction programme is on course. It is better to lose weight slowly rather than rapidly – 200 grammes per week for a small dog and up to 1 kg. a week for a large dog. If your dog is overweight you are not getting enough exercise!
See Burns Pet Nutrition leaflet on Weight Control/ Contact Burns Pet Nutrition Team on 0800 083 66 96
Environmental Impact of pets
The keeping of pets came in for a bit of criticism last year as the result of a study by Edinburgh University academics. This highlighted the environmental impact of keeping pets. The report concluded that pet food production accounted for 1 -3% of agricultural emissions.
There can be no denying that keeping a pet does increase the overall carbon footprint. But there are also numerous powerful and well recognised benefits to human health and wellbeing which should be taken into consideration. This has been a huge lesson of the COVID lockdown; having a pet has had an enormous benefit to the mental health of we humans. (Although I do worry about what will happen to all the newly acquired puppies when society gets back to normal.)
That said, it has to be a good idea to try to minimise the environmental impact of pet keeping. There are 28 million households in the UK. The dog and cat populations are both estimated to be about 10 million each. This suggests there may be 12 million households with a dog or cat or both. If these households were to make a concerted effort to reduce and offset the environmental impact of having a pet, this could make a huge difference. I see the potential for a united campaign by the pet owning public to come together and make a real difference, not just to reduce the carbon footprint of pets but would also lead to huge benefits to pet health.
- Reduce the overall amount of food and treats consumed by pets. Reducing the amount of food and treats will help to reduce the environmental impact. That will also help in reducing obesity as well as many other health problems, both physical and mental, which affect pets.
- Reduce the amount of meat and other animal- based ingredients in pet food. Meat and animal products account for over 80% of the environmental impact of food production so feeding pets on lower protein foods with higher complex carbohydrate, as Burns is, can be helpful.
- Feed pet food which is highly digestible. Feeding better quality pet food which is more digestible means that not so much food is needed and less poo is produced which means less needs to be disposed of.
- Apply (1) and (2) to our own eating habits. As with pets, eating less and reducing the proportion of animal products in the human diet can make a huge impact on human health as well as the environment.
- Use insecticide treatments only as required. Stop routine monthly medication which is leading to pollution of rivers with insecticides.
- Walk your dog from home rather than driving somewhere first.
- Recycle unwanted pet beds, toys and accessories to rescue centres
- Plant trees or pay for trees to be planted on your behalf.
John Burns is the founder of Burns Pet Nutrition and a qualified veterinary surgeon and acupuncturist.
To find out more visit: www.burnspet.co.uk