Spotlight on Gemma
Helping with your pet's weight
Q & A with Registered Veterinary Nurse and qualified nutritionist Gemma Burden
We all want to do the best for our pet to help them live a long and healthy life and that includes ensuring they receive the best nutrition and maintain a healthy weight. Sometimes we need a little help with that and that’s where our vets and vet nurses can come in.
Gemma is a registered vet nurse and, as of 2017, gained her Certificate in Canine and Feline Veterinary Health Nutrition. She uses her expertise to run weight clinics to help pets lose weight and advise owners on the best nutrition.
Here, she answers some common questions pet owners have regarding pets and nutrition.
Why do pets become overweight?
Most of the time pets gain weight as they are eating more calories than they require. This could be because their food is not an ideal match for their lifestyle, they are being fed too much, or that they are being given too many treats. However, there are some factors which can make a pet more likely to become overweight. Neutering (spaying or castrating) a pet can lead to hormonal changes which affect both the pets’ energy requirements and their appetite which can lead to weight gain. As pets age they can become less active meaning they have a lower calorie requirement, and if their diet is not adjusted to meet this they could also gain weight. Some breeds also seem to be more prone to putting on weight, such as Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, British Shorthairs, Domestic Shorthairs and Birmans. Occasionally a pet may have a health problem which causes it to gain weight.
What health problems can an overweight pet encounter?
As with humans, being overweight can cause a number of health problems in our pets. Overweight pets are more than twice as likely to develop diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, skin disease, heart disease and high blood pressure, which could reduce life expectancy by as much as two years. It can also have a massive effect on the pets quality of life, with many becoming more lethargic, having difficulty breathing and struggling to cope in warm weather, as well as being less able to enjoy exercise and playing with their owner.
How can I tell if my pet is over weight?
It’s easy to check whether or not your pet is at their ideal weight. First of all, run both your hands, palms facedown across your pet's ribcage on either side of the chest. You should be able to easily feel your pets’ ribs without needing to apply pressure. Next, get down to your pets’ level and look at them from the side whilst they are standing. Their tummy should tuck up towards their pelvis. Finally, look down at your standing pet to check that they narrow around their waist giving an hour-glass shape. If you can't easily feel your pets’ ribs, they don't have an obvious waist, or their tummy doesn't tuck up then it is likely that they are not at their ideal weight. If you are still not sure, contact your vets and book an appointment with one of the nurses for a weight check.
How can I help my pet lose weight?
If your pet is only a little overweight then changing to a lower calorie or "light" version of their current diet and carefully weighing out their portions may be enough. However, if they have a bit more weight to lose then I would recommend a specially formulated weight loss diet. Whilst it may seem like you could just feed your pet less, this can be dangerous as in addition to reducing the number of calories your pet receives, you will also be cutting back on the amount of all other nutrients which could be detrimental to your pets health, and the smaller portions will often mean that your pet is hungry. Weight loss diets are formulated to be lower in calories whilst containing all of the other nutrients that your pet needs, and portion size is maintained to prevent hunger. Exercise also has a role to play in weight loss, but you need to be careful not to increase your pets exercise too quickly, and if your pet has any health problems it is important to discuss this with your vet before making any changes to their exercise regime.
Where can I turn for nutrition advice for my pet?
If you have any questions or concerns about your pets diet I'd be happy to help!
Gemma Burden RVN Cert CFVHNut