By Kisha Aleena Abuda

Let’s face it, we all like chubby critters. Our dogs seem to be twice as adorable, and cats, well, they seem less of a threat and more of a chunky snob. Their tummies become the site of endless affection and vulnerability. And at the sight of those plump paws, who wouldn’t want to shower them with kisses all day long? Round is the new cute for our felines and canines, lying on their backs and curling into a ball is the new wanted position, and having flab is the new fab.

But have you also notices how they’re more sluggish than usual or how they may have difficulty breathing? When your dog seems to struggle playing fetch or your cat loses their agility, then they might be experiencing pet obesity. That’s right, even our animal companions can succumb to this seemingly harmful body change.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, obesity is the presence of excessive amounts of body fats that could cause health problems and compromise the safety of your critter. Generally, your animal companion is considered overweight if they have around 15 to 20 percent more of their expected body weight.

Causes of animal obesity

1. Dogs and cats

Just like their hoomans, cats and dogs become overweight when they fail to meet the right ratio of food intake and calories burned. For indoor cat, the recommended calorie intake per day per pound is 20 calories. Meanwhile, dogs need to eat food that will fulfill the required 25 to 30 calories per pound each day. Of course, this is just basic food algorithm, as experts say that daily caloric need still depends on the sex, age, breed, and even the spay/neuter status of your fur baby.

Lack of exercise is also a big factor in obesity. Allowing your dog or cat to sleep around more often or longer than usual doesn’t seem to be a big deal until they have difficulty moving around or even breathing. Prolonged physical inactivity inhibits your fur-mate to burn fats needed to maintain a healthy body weight, and this takes a toll on their long-term well-being.

Though not all, some breeds are more prone to obesity than others. For dogs, pugs, bulldogs, and dachshunds are statistically more likely to be overweight. As for cats, shorthairs and Persians are most likely to gain excess weight, not just because of genes, but because they are the most domesticated breeds.

Over-spoiling your fur baby and carelessly tolerating too much food consumption are also some of the causes of obesity in companion animals. Though they may be harmless in the moment, they can cause weight problems that have devastating and even long-term consequences.

2. Other critters

Other animal companions at home, such as pigs, mice, and birds, can also suffer from obesity.

Pigs, while commonly seen as “fat,” also require a balanced diet, which includes proper feeding time and a variety of plant foods. While some are simply adopted, other pigs have been rescued from farms that induce heavy eating for maximum weight gain in the shortest amount of time. They are also kept in small spaces that do not allow for much movement, causing them to amass more fat than they can burn.

Similarly, companion birds are kept in their cages for most of the day. Unlike wild birds who get to fly and explore as they please, birds kept at home have limited time and space to simply roam about. An entirely seed-based diet is also the culprit for bird obesity; because seeds are high in fat, a diet that heavily relies on seeds greatly increases the risk of obesity in birds. In addition, many essential vitamins and minerals are not found in seeds alone, and their absence from your bird’s daily servings of feed may prove harmful to health.

Mice, while also kept in cages, can easily roam the house and get all the exercise they need. However, like birds, mindlessly feeding them a variety of seeds can cause obesity, because they tend to nitpick and choose only those that they prefer, which may not be necessarily healthy in the first place. Also, the lack of toys or furniture in their cages that allow physical activity can encourage more lying around than the ideal amount.

Effects of obesity

1. Dogs and cats

The effects of excess weight can go beyond respiratory problems, and joint and muscle coordination. Like in human obesity, our canine and feline companions would have difficulty in breathing due to the abdominal amount of fat surrounding their respiratory systems. They would also have trouble moving around or executing their favorite play because chubby limbs are more difficult to lift and shift.

Exercise becomes more challenging, and its lack could lead to more serious ailments, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Obesity increases the risk of acquiring diseases due to lack of exercise. Joint pain is also common symptom of obesity, as is lameness.

While fat cats and dogs look more lovable and disarming to us hoomans, they may be suffering physically and mentally from abnormal and unhealthy body fat (yes, there is such a thing as good fat). And because they cannot help themselves, their guardians should look out for these telltale signs and help prevent them before it’s too late.

2. Other critters

For pigs, obesity affects their mental health and may cause depression. Depressed pigs often do not want to interact with their hoomans or fellow animals, which can lead to more sleeping and idleness. Another effect is blindness from having too much fat in their faces. Their hearing can also be compromised. Too much mass in the head obstructs ear canals and affects hearing, often leading to complete hearing loss. Because they cannot sea or hear you very well, your pig might see you as a threat and become hostile.

Like humans, birds and mice can also suffer from atherosclerosis and liver disease due to excess fat in the arteries and liver tissue. Even though it may not look like it, birds can also be prone to heart attacks and even hypertension. Mice can have heart and breathing problems due to obesity.

Birds tend to lose some good feathers and have difficulty being upright as their joints experience more strain. And yes, obesity can unfortunately leave your bird companion flightless. Mice are slow to move and are less likely to play, and tend to have a shorter lifespan.

What can you do

1. Visit the vet

Since the obesity is considered an illness, you should seek out the expertise of a professional.

For canines and felines, you can tell if they’re overweight by tracing their rib coverage. If you can’t see the ribcage from above, chances are they are overweight. As for pigs, once their tummies start hitting the ground and their tails seemingly become stout, it means they’ve exceeded their ideal weight. For mice, you should be able to locate the spine by feeling for it. For birds, find out if the breast muscles on both sides of the keel (bone in the middle part of the chest) are flat enough not to form a sort of cleavage.

Additionally, you can also take the weight of your animal companion and compare to the ideal, healthy weight.

2. Work the weight

While obesity can be alarming, it is also reversible. Exercise is the obvious solution to overweight problems, and creating a plan for regular and increased physical activity for your critter is a great starting point, even when they show resistance.

Taking your dog outside for a walk more times than usual, or including them in your jogging routine, can greatly increase their chance at recovery. It may not sound good, but “tricking” your cat into working out by laser pointing at something you can do for their own sake. Pigs, like dogs, are naturally playful and active creatures who can be encouraged to move if motivated the right way. One technique is sprinkling your pig’s food in different places, which forces them to walk from one place to another.

Putting an exercise wheel and ball in a mouse’s cage also boosts opportunities for exercise. Adding toys that can be played with (or chewed upon) is a fun way for them to lose weight. As for the birds, allow them to interact with other animals and more humans outside the cage.

Of course, it is ideal to allow your animal companion to explore bigger spaces, preferably the outdoors where there are significantly more areas to roam and run about. Excitement in discovering new places (to pee in and smell, most likely) is half the motivation your flabby fur-mate needs.

3. Change the chow

While exercise can rid your critter of that excess fat and weight, it also helps them if you changed their diet or ration of food. Switching to a more plant-based diet helps birds and mice, as well as pigs. Get them to try a variety of plant foods and see which they prefer most, and give them larger portions of these in each meal. Like us hoomans, our animal companions can easily transition to a healthier diet when they enjoy the meals served to them.

Changing treats to healthier options, such as nuts and fruits, may seem like a small thing, but it can yield promising results. While treats are great motivators for training animal companions, they can also be the cause of excess weight if they’re too high in calories.

Frequency and portion are also important. Feeding time should be monitored, as well as the caloric density of each meal. Resist the puppy eyes your dog gives you, or that hateful glance your cat will likely give you when you try to explain to them that they need to lay off that second can of cat food.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September-October 2020 issue.

You might want to read:
– One health: An extensive work in progress that includes animals in human health picture
– Animal companions linked to better mental health during lockdown, new research shows
– Feeding cats one meal a day make them healthier and more satisfied, new study claims