How many of you have a new year’s resolution to lose a few pounds? How about helping your pets do the same?

I’m sure most of us are aware that obesity in people has been on the rise for some time, but did you know that our pets are showing a similar trend? As with humans, carrying too much extra weight can have a serious impact on our pets’ health – diabetes, heart disease, bladder stones and arthritis are all examples of conditions which can be caused or exacerbated by excess weight. The major difference is that while people are able to make their own informed decisions about their health, pets are entirely reliant on their owners to fulfil their needs and give them the best quality of life possible.

Several factors can influence an animal’s chances of becoming overweight; certain breeds seem to be more predisposed to weight gain (Labradors are a common example), age can often be a factor, and animals which have been neutered tend to require a lower daily calorie intake. So, the important questions – how can I tell if my pet is overweight, and how can I help them to slim down?

While it’s helpful to weigh your pet regularly to keep track of any changes, just looking at the kilograms or pounds might not always give the full picture. Some animals will be naturally thicker-set and heavier than others of the same breed, even when both are in perfect condition. Body condition scoring is a good way to assess whether an animal needs to gain or lose any weight by concentrating on the individual pet and how much of a fat covering they have at various points. For example, in most healthy dogs the ribs will be easily felt beneath the fur with very little fat padding over the top, and may be visible in some dogs when running or stretched out but generally cannot be seen in a relaxed position. Dogs and cats should have a waist, so that when viewed from above the abdomen has a narrower section between the ribs and hips, and when viewed from the side there is a definite difference between the depth of the chest and the more tucked-up belly.

Just like us, the key to weight loss for pets is diet and exercise, and this is something that the nurses at your veterinary practice will be happy to advise on. Use scales to weigh out every meal to avoid letting portions creep up unnoticed. If you like to give treats at certain times of day or to help with training, make sure to count these in the total daily intake and reduce the food given at mealtimes accordingly. Exercise is a great chance to have fun and bond with your pet – try getting all the family members involved in a dog-walking rota, take a trip to the beach, or join an agility class. Swimming is highly recommended, especially if your pet struggles with arthritis, as it gives the muscles a good workout without putting stress on sore joints – there are several local pet hydrotherapy facilities worth looking up. Cats needn’t be left out either – while they might not appreciate walkies or swimming, get them moving by playing with a favourite toy, chasing a laser pointer or even just moving their food bowl upstairs to give them a longer walk to dinner. Every little helps, and a slim and healthy pet will have a longer life expectancy and feel happier and more comfortable in daily life.