Professor Myriam Hesta and her team at the Ghent University campus have been helping obese dogs and cats for a year now. The 40 animals collectively have already lost 80 kilos.
Professor of Animal Nutrition at Ghent University Myriam Hesta looked back with satisfaction on the first year of the Belgian obesity clinic for pets. 40 dogs and cats treated at the clinic last year have already lost about 80 kilos. But there is still work to be done. ‘If we see in studies that 50 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats are overweight or obese, we know that we have not yet reached all animals. So everyone is welcome, ‘says Hesta.
A unique plot
When the animals come to Hesta’s team for a first consultation, they do an extensive analysis of the diet and activities. Next, we look at how many grams of food the animal can eat, what the weight loss rate should be, and how well the animal can feed. It’s not always the best idea to just put the food in a bowl, explains professor Myriam Hesta.
The diet and exercise schedule that the obesity clinic draws are unique to each animal. These schedules should help dogs and cats reach their ideal weight. But this weight is also different for each animal, which is why they work with a clinical body condition score. ‘This is a scale of 1 to 9, where 4 and 5 are normal, 6 and 7 are overweight and 8 and 9 are obese. We naturally aim for that score in 4 ‘or 5’, explains Hesta.
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The first thing owners notice when dogs and cats have lost weight is how much more lively and active the animals are. Losing weight also has many more positive effects on health. For example, some scientific studies show that overweight dogs with orthopedic conditions are much less likely to lose weight if they lose 5 to 8 percent of their weight.
It is also important to move the animals further. This is less obvious for cats. But Hesta has some tricks for this: ‘We work as little as possible with ordinary food, but rather with food puzzle. The intention is to get the food out with their claws. As a result, they eat less fast and suddenly exercise. ‘
You can buy these types of puzzles, but you can also make them yourself by, for example, placing granules in empty toilet rolls. Another way to get cats moving is to throw the pellets one at a time. In the beginning you do this close. If the cat loses weight, you can throw further and further. Hesta says that it is very important to imitate the instincts of hunting.
Act before it’s too late
There are many reasons why animals become overweight or obese, which may or may not change. For example, there are certain breeds of dogs and cats that are more prone to size, such as Labradors or British Shorthairs. In addition, age and sterilization / castration also play a role, for example. ‘These are things you can’t change, but what you can adjust is diet and activity. When it comes to nutrition, it’s mostly about the number and not so much the species, says the animal nutrition teacher.
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‘People also don’t realize that a speculoos biscuit, which is only a small thing for us, already covers a large part of the animals’ energy needs – especially younger bred dogs and cats, ’says Hesta. This is why it is important to intervene in time and preferably to avoid overweight and obesity in dogs and cats. According to Professor Hesta, this is possible by filling the food every time it is empty, by providing extra sweets and it not only works with volume, but also weighs the food. ‘Many people are shocked when they look at the packaging on what they can provide and then consider how much that really is.’