Obesity & Weight loss

The internet is full of cute, funny photos and videos of ‘chonky’ pets – but a fat cat or pudgy pup is no laughing matter. Much the same as humans, overweight and obese animals are susceptible to a range of dangerous and uncomfortable health conditions, and ultimately can lead to a shortened life.

Obesity is one of the most common nutritional disorders our vets see in cats and dogs. In Australia and New Zealand, nearly half of all pet dogs and approximately a third of pet cats are overweight! Some common ailments caused by being overweight include:

• Diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
• Degenerative joint and orthopedic disease (including arthritis)
• Joint stress or musculoskeletal pain
• Respiratory problems
• Cancer and tumours
• Skin problems
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Reproductive disorders
• Decreased quality of life
• Shorter life expectancy

What causes pets to become overweight?

There are a few ways our pets can gain excess weight, and whilst some breeds are more susceptible to weight-gain than others, most reasons come down to our willpower as a responsible pet parent! These causes can include:

• Feeding extra treats
• Feeding unhealthy treats
• Feeding an unbalanced diet
• Lack of exercise

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Your pet might be overweight if:
• You experience difficulty when trying to feel their ribs
• You cannot see a defined ‘waist’
• You can see obvious fat deposits and rolls
• They are no longer grooming themselves efficiently, if at all
• They are reluctant to exercise or are disinterested
• They quickly become tired and refuse to continue exercise
• They have a ‘waddle’ to their walk – or other abnormal movement
• They are at a weight dramatically different from breed guidelines
• They are often panting – even without movement or exercise

Healthy treats and fun exercise

Avoid feeding your pet ‘junk food’ treats like jerky type strips and highly processed snacks that might be purchased in the supermarket. Human treats are also a big no-no – no matter how cute those begging eyes are. It is also important not to feed your pet treats here and there ‘just because’. Use treats as a reward for positive behaviours and training. Some healthier reward treats include:

• A small percentage of your pet’s daily feed allowance (kibble)
• Fresh foods like carrots, zucchini, berries, or beans for dogs
• Small amounts of cooked fish, catnip, or cat grass for cats
Some simple ways to include fun exercise in your pet’s day include:
• A walk
• Playing with your pet – inside or in the backyard
• Fetch (for cats and dogs!)
• Tug-o-war
• Swimming
• Climbing toys and spaces for cats
• Chasing laser toys
• Socialising with other animals your pet is comfortable with
• Nose-works – get your cat or dog moving by hiding healthy treats or interesting smells for them to sniff out

What can I do if I think my pet is overweight?

If you suspect your pet is overweight, it is important not to change their diet or exercise schedule drastically or quickly – this could exacerbate the problem. Book an appointment with your vet, and together you will create a plan to help your pet reach their optimal weight in a healthy and sustainable manner.


Skin allergies in dogs and cats

By Dr Danielle Page BVSc Hill’s Pet Nutrition

What are the most common skin allergies in pets?

The most common skin allergies in dogs and cats are to things in their environment such as dust mites, pollens and grasses. These skin allergies manifest as itching and scratching, causing red, inflamed and damaged skin, a condition which is called atopy, or atopic dermatitis. Another common allergy is to fleas, which, predictably enough, is called flea allergy dermatitis. These are the big two skin allergies seen in dogs and cats throughout Australia and New Zealand and we typically see them seasonally - but some (such as dust mites) can be seen all year round. Allergies to food, while also a possibility for causing skin reactions, are actually much less common than atopic dermatitis and flea allergy dermatitis, making up only 10-15% of all skin allergies¹ and typically occur all year round.

This may surprise many pet owners, given all the focus food allergies are given in the media! It may also come as a surprise that, despite common belief, grains are rarely the cause of food allergies and most often the allergy is to an animal protein with beef, dairy and chicken being the most common allergens in dogs and beef, dairy and fish for cats.

What are environmental allergies?

The reason some animals suffer from environmental allergies is that they have a defective skin barrier which is an inherited disorder. Allergens, such as pollens pass through the skin (unlike in us where we inhale the allergens and typically get hayfever) which causes an allergic reaction. Moisture can also be lost through this defective barrier, causing the skin to be dry. This in turn makes the pet feel itchy and they scratch and lick their skin, causing further damage. An analogy you may want to think about is treated/oiled wood on a deck vs an untreated, undressed deck which represents a defective skin barrier.

While any breed can suffer from environmental allergies, there are some breeds which are more likely to have skin problems such as Golden and Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, English bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, Boston terriers, Shih tzus, Miniature Schnauzers, and my first dog (which suffered badly from environmental allergies): West Highland white terriers².

More about food allergies

For pets to be allergic to a food they must have eaten it previously in order to become sensitised to it. When the food is eaten repeatedly their immune system mounts an allergic response. A pet may have eaten the same food for months or years and then develop an allergy to it. A pet can develop an allergy to any protein fed commonly.

Food sensitivities or intolerances are quite different to food allergies in that they don’t involve the pet’s immune system. Collectively, food allergies and food intolerances are called adverse food reactions, and may result in gastrointestinal problems or skin problems, or both. Gastrointestinal signs may include loose stools, increased stool frequency, flatulence and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea. Skin signs can mimic many other types of skin disease and can include itchiness around the face and paws, ear infections and can also be generalised over the entire body.

How are adverse reactions to food diagnosed?

Unfortunately there is no blood or skin test to rule food allergy in or out. The only way to make a diagnosis is to do a food elimination trial, which involves feeding a diet made up exclusively of ingredients the pet hasn’t eaten before. In addition to looking at all the ingredients in the regular food, all treats or flavoured medications/wormers, etc. a pet may have consumed (particularly within the previous 6 months) need to be taken into account. Your veterinarian will advise what is the best food for your pet to be on during the diet trial.

Hill’s new diet for managing both environmental and food sensitivities in dogs

Hill’s latest skin care diet, Prescription Diet Derm Complete, is a breakthrough for Hill’s in the management of skin conditions in dogs, because it has been clinically tested to help manage both food and environmental sensitivities.

Derm Complete contains nutrients such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to help strengthen the skin barrier, as well as an optimal blend of vitamins and minerals to help nourish the skin and coat. Derm Complete also contains Hill’s proprietary blend of ingredients and nutrients, including phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables to help support skin function in dogs with environmental sensitivities.

Derm Complete can also help manage food sensitivities because it contains a single source of protein, egg, which rarely causes adverse food reactions in dogs, making it a great long term solution for dogs with food or environmental sensitivities, or both.

Skin conditions can have a wide range of causes and require veterinary expertise for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Be sure to consult your veterinarian about your pet's individual health and treatment options.

 

¹Mueller RS, Olivry T, Prélaud P. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC Vet Res. 2016;12:9.
²Miller WH, Griffin CE, Campbell KL, eds. Hypersensitivity Disorders. In: Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology 7 th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2013:372