Tackling the topic on obesity today. This is a growing trend we vets see all over the world. Overweight and obesity occurs for a variety of reason- it could be medical, lack of knowledge and information, breed disposition, societal view, reflection of the owner’s own diet, insufficient exercise, lifestyle etc.
Over the years over observation, it’s interesting to note the different reasons as to why animals in the respective countries (Australia vs Singapore). And with that as well, the different client’s responses I get when I state this fact to them.
Firstly, let me start out with how vets assess your animals’ body condition score (BCS). The traditional method: where veterinary professionals take into account the palpability of ribs, visibility of spine and quantity of abdominal fat.
(see picture below courtesy of Purina).
A newer technique of assessing patient’s body condition, kickstarted by Hills- the Hills Healthy Weight Protocol; where measurements of the patient’s head length, head circumference, front leg and hind leg length is placed into a formula and ideal weight calculated via an e-tool.
This newer method is slightly more laborious, and may not be incorporated in most clinic’s assessment process yet. (Over in the clinic in Perth where I used to work, we used BOTH methods for our patients).
Raising the issue of weight is not always the easiest one. Yet it is a veterinarian and other veterinary staffs’ (registered nurses) duty to discuss this as part of their comprehensive assessment. This is especially so when the client themselves err on the heavier side of the scale.
I tend to avoid using words like “fat”, “overweight” or “obese” for that matter. I find that turning the situation into a casual one by using colloquial terms i.e. “hello you little chubster” or “she sure likes her food doesn’t she?” helps to open up the topic for further discussion as clients tend to chuckle or agree with that point.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss ALL the different reasons why an animal is overweight. Here is a very good article I’ve found for that. In this article, the author discusses both common reasons and the consequence of an overweight animal.
The true reason behind this article is to state my observations and the region specific reasons why some animals gain weight- discussing lifestyles of clients, societal views, as well as how receptive clients are to change.
Fact: Approximately 50% of Australians are categorized as overweight. A 2014 study found that 63.4% of >18yo Australians are overweight. The truth is that pet obesity does correlate to the owner’s obesity. This model is similar to that of the child and his/her parent.
As mentioned earlier, bringing up this subject on weight to a client can be relatively challenging. Fortunately, majority of my clients are often objective enough to understand that we are not taking a personal dig at them. And that we are trying to work along side them to give Fluffy a better quality of life.
I do feel that my Australian clients are significantly more committed to weight management. They do take onboard the suggestions for diet change, feed reduction, exercise regimes, and treat avoidance. Many of my clients have returned with remarkable improvement and are often surprised by the change in their animal’s energy level upon shedding the weight.
In fact, they are so receptive to the point that over my previous place of employment Vet24, they actually have 2 senior registered vet nurses who are currently pursing nutritional courses and holding nutritional consults for these clients.
Over in Singapore (though increasing) the percentage of overweight individuals sits at approx. 11%. And with that I definitely do see less patients of which obesity is a problem..
However Singaporeans tend to not regard the problem of obesity as a serious one. Public perception seems slightly skewed and that an overweight animal is as often deemed as”CUTE”. When Socks was much younger (and living in Melbourne), we would board her at a cattery and return to a cat that is severely overweight. I definitely received a lot more comments from peers in Singapore then on how she was incredibly adorable.
In addition, I have found that a lot of friends/ peers have made remarks on how they prefer a fat cat, etc. Not forgetting the endless shares on facebook on chubby cats and the gushing comments they garner.
My client’s in Singapore are as well, less receptive to the discussion of weight. This topic often gets brushed away and more often than not, these clients return for their next visit with an even heavier animal. There are many others who out rightly disagree with our diagnosis. (Of course exceptions exist, a small handful of my clients are extremely dedicated to their animal’s weight).
This occurrence could also be a reflection of the different lifestyles of pet owners in Singapore. Many working-class pet owners liberally provide treats for their animals due to the guilt of not being home (as working hours are much longer in Singapore > Australia) and they believe that feeding/ treating counts as interaction with the animal.
A large proportion of households also have a live-in foreign helper who often are the ones who are responsible for feeding and walking the animal (and as such they are less educated and unaware of the perils obesity brings. Families without live-in helpers on the other hand may work long hours and may not walk/ exercise their animals as often.
Fortunately most of the animals I regularly see in Singapore are mostly within the healthy weight range and enforcing a healthy lifestyle is less pertinent a matter.
Whatever the reason, I do hope pet owners out there can learn to understand the gravity of this issue. That many health related problem such as diabetes and early osteoarthritis may be avoided. The first step is acknowledgement, and we are half-way/ or rather 1/4 way there. Just remember the 80-20 rule applies to not just us humans and pets too. (80% diet, 20% exercise)
The above article contains my own opinions and may be subjected to debate. Please consult your local veterinarian to discuss diet and other modalities that can be used to help your Fluffy cut the fat.
*I apologise for having cat only representations- I obviously have more friends who own chubby cats than dogs