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Weight-watching:

Caring for an animal involves feeding it and there is a strong emotional bonding between a human and a pet associated with food. The animal likes to eat and the human feels kind and giving when feeding the animal. It is however not unusual for pet animals to be willing to over-eat (and so, of course, may humans). This relates to natural instincts which encourage the eating of food when it is available in case it should run out. So we cannot always leave it to the animal to regulate its own food intake.

Pets do not have to hunt for food and so the calorie use which would occur just to get food in the wild does not occur. Many pets are not exercised by their owners as much as might be ideal and so their calorie needs may well be less than they want to eat. So they need to be restricted to prevent becoming overweight. When owners are told their pets are overweight (we try to tell them nicely because we know they are feeding them kindly) they almost always refer to tit-bits as if these are the only cause of overindulgence. This is not the case. The problem of overfeeding relates to the TOTAL calorie intake the pet gets each day. Tit-bits are only a problem if large amounts of unsuitable material are given. Generally the sort of things given as tit-bits are not suitable as a large part of a pet's diet, but small amounts of them are harmless. However it is important to count the calorie value of the tit-bits into the pet's total daily intake. I advise people to give their pets much SMALLER tit-bits: dogs do not notice the size of what they are given, but they soon get into a routine of when and how many bits are given.

Some animals have hormonal problems which reduce their use of calories. If you are trying to diet your pet and are not making progress, it may be advisable to test particularly the pet's thyroid function. This involves sending a blood sample away for measurements of both the thyroid hormone and the thyroid stimulating hormone. If the thyroid is found to be underactive, the hormone can be given in tablet form to replace the deficiency.

The main way to control the weight of a pet is to control its calorie intake and special diets are available for pets whose calorie requirements are lower than normal. These foods have fewer calories but contain the correct amounts of other vital food materials (protein, vitamins, minerals). If you just feed a small amount of normal pet food, you are starving the pet of these essential items. The nurses have details of many different foods to help control weight problems in pets and we have scales to weigh pets at the surgery which you can use to keep an eye on your pet's progress. There is plenty of support material from food manufacturers to help explain how to keep a fit slim pet.

To remind you, though you have probably read it before, the problems caused by obesity (and about 50% of pets in the UK are obese) include joint and muscle strains, arthritis, liver disease, heart disease and diabetes. All things which tend to shorten an animals life.

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