Feeding Dogs & Cats
As we approach the season where traditionally most of us over-indulge a bit and then end up worrying about our own waistlines, perhaps it is also a time to think a bit about how we feed our pets too?
I am always a little surprised when clients come into my consulting room and I mention that their pet is perhaps carrying a few extra pounds, that they immediately come back with “Oh, but he doesn’t get very much” or “Oh, but I only feed her what it says on the packet”.
There seems to be something of a disconnect between what a pet looks like and what we think we should be feeding, and this is completely different to how we feed ourselves.
For ourselves, we don’t just look on the back of a packet of food and try to work out how much we should be feeding ourselves based solely on our weight. Similarly, what a petite human female might eat would look tiny compared to what a heavyweight boxer would eat! So surely, we need to think about the amount of food in relation to the size of our pet? The correct amount of food for a cat or a chihuahua is going to look tiny in comparison to what we would eat because we are that much bigger.
We need to think about how we feed our dogs and cats in exactly the same way as we think about feeding ourselves.
How do we judge if we ourselves are overweight, about right or underweight? We look in the mirror and assess our body shape. This is exactly what we should be doing for our dogs and cats. In dogs and cats, this is called Body Condition Scoring (BCS) and there is a great resource at http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html which shows exactly what this is all about. Essentially, it is a way of visually measuring if your pet is overweight, underweight or about right. The aim is for the optimum score of 3, with 1 being very skinny and underweight and 5 being massively overweight or obese.
Once you have worked out what BCS your pet is, you can then adjust the feeding accordingly.
Simply sticking to what it says on the back of the packet of food is a recipe for disaster. The guides on the backs of packets of food are simply that - guides. In most cases they significantly over-estimate the amount of food a pet in the UK actually needs to maintain a BCS of 3. I generally recommend that the first time you feed a particular diet, you HALVE whatever the guide suggests and work from there. If, after a few days your pet is ravenously hungry and starting to look a bit thin, you’re probably not feeding enough. If, on the other hand, you put the food down and you pet eats a bit, leaves some to come back to later and has a BCS greater than 3, then you are probably feeding a bit too much still.
Rarely do I feed my own dogs the same amount of food each week. It will vary with the amount of exercise they are doing. If I have a week off and we go on lots of long walks, they are burning more energy so they need more food. If I have a busy week at work and they have been getting shorter walks, they need a bit less food to avoid them putting on weight ……. which, strangely enough, is exactly the way I feed myself!
Food for thought?