Running between the 13th and 20th of January is the National Obesity Awareness Week, a kick start to the UKs New Years Resolution to get the nation in shape! Over 35% of people in the UK are classified as overweight, and 29% of those are classified as obese (a BMI over 30).

Obesity is an increasing trend for both people and pets in the UK, both with medical costs associated with treating obesity related conditions; diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancers – costing the NHS over £6b a year.

Why is obesity on the rise?

As food becomes more accessible (takeaways and delivery) which are packed with higher amounts of fats and sugar, the amount of calories we are consuming increases too. This, when combined with a more sedentary lifestyle like desk work, sitting on the sofa or driving instead of walking, means that the excess in calories ends up being stored as fat.

How does this compare to pets?

In the veterinary industry, the obesity trend it is no different – over 45% of our nations pets are obese! In cats and dogs, a Body Condition Score (BCS) of over 8 if using the 1-9 scoring system, or 5 if using the 1-5 scoring system classifies them as obese. These BCS correlate to a Body Fat Percentage (BFP) of >35% which is similar to the BFP in obese people.

When comparing the cost of treating obesity related conditions in pets, it amounts to £215m spent each year in veterinary practices.

What is the National Obesity Awareness Weeks’ aim?

This campaign encourages people to “turn obesity around’ by cooking healthier at home, avoiding unnecessary snacking, increasing physical activity and getting more quality sleep.

It is a sensitive topic, but the Better Healthcare website offers some tips on how to talk to people who may need support to make these healthy changes, like recommending alternative food options or offering to do exercise with them.

What can we do to help outside of the Veterinary Practice?

This is a great time to be motivated by #WalkYourDogMonth2020 which is also in January. People who walk dogs will on average walk 30 minutes more than those who don’t walk their dogs – they also have a reduced BMI, and a reduced risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.

Getting outside and walking with dogs is also mutually beneficial as increases physical activity for both owner and pet, and more benefits include:

  • Reducing the amount of cortisol in the body (a stress hormone)
  • Promoting mindfulness by getting fresh air and being around nature
  • Dogs have an infectious enthusiasm when out for walks or play time in a park, which easily becomes a shared happiness when owners see their pet happy

Raising obesity awareness in Veterinary Practice

The approach to obesity management in pets should be holistic – from discussions one on one in the consult room through to the environment of the waiting room.

Start by routinely weighing pets and also using a BCS alongside this to identify the development of obesity, especially in younger pets which are still growing. As a minimum, record weights annually and encourage more frequent “weigh ins” between the annual visits in overweight pets.

Veterinary nurse lead weight clinics can be introduced, and these can also help strengthen the bond of the client to the practice. Ensure that all staff are supported and trained appropriately on the use of BCS charts and grading so they can be used confidently when talking to clients. Try to establish a practice policy on how to manage overweight pet discussions and weight clinics so there is standardisation across the whole team.

On the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) website there is a “Weight Management Hub” full of resources and videos to support clients, including easy to understand posters on how many calories are in human snacks, family pledges on pet weight loss and food diaries for example.

In the waiting rooms, healthier pet lifestyles can be encouraged by stocking a range of dog collars and leads, leaflets on local dog walk paths, puzzle bowls to slow down meal times, and feather wands for cats. Some fatty treats like rawhide can be replaced with freeze dried snacks like chicken, beef or tuna which are all high in protein and low in fat.

So get started!

For the next week, try swapping out some unhealthy sugary tea room snacks for a fruit and vegetable platter and go for a 15 minute walk during your lunch break!