December 19, 2020

Manx SPCA column: Do overweight owners have porkier pets?

By haziqbinarif

It’s often said that dogs resemble their owners (or is it the other way around?) but research suggests that the similarities may also extend to their risk of diabetes.

Previous studies have hinted that overweight owners tend to have porkier pets, possibly because of shared health behaviours such as overeating or not taking regular exercise.

To investigate whether this extended to a shared risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden compared data from 208,980 owner/dog and 123,566 owner/cat pairs.

They discovered that owning a dog with diabetes was associated with a 38% increased risk of having type 2 diabetes compared with owning a healthy hound.

Though this was an observational study and researchers couldn’t determine an absolute cause, it is possible that dogs with diabetes could be a kind of ’sentinel’ – warning owners that they, too, might be at high risk of the disease.

However, no shared risk of diabetes was found between cat owners and their pets, indicating that physical activity is likely to be the most important factor given cats usually have more independence when it comes to movement and exercise.

The dark, cold, often wet winter mornings and evenings make this a particularly challenging time of year for dog walks, but a quick run around the garden is insufficient for most dogs.

This time of year also presents dietary challenges with festive food left-overs and treats in abundance.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says that its members report a continued rise in pet obesity with the problem becoming so bad that a growing number of vets are getting injured carrying obese animals, forcing many to buy lifting equipment.

A study by Direct Line insurance found that pugs were the breed most likely to be overweight, with three quarters defined as fat by vets.

More than half of boxers were too heavy, with golden retrievers next most likely to be overweight.

The pet insurance industry has a vested interest in this research because pet obesity causes joint issues, diabetes, and heart and respiratory problems.

These problems not only cause huge suffering for the animals concerned, but they result in substantial vet bills, many of which the insurance companies will need to cover.

The BVA defines pet obesity as a condition in which excess body fat has developed to the point that the animal’s health is adversely affected by it. It says that overweight dogs, for example, have a shortened lifespan and are predisposed to painful and debilitating conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Pet owners must accept responsibility.

All too often people give their pets human food, such as cheese and bacon which are high in fat and calories.

About 30 grams of cheese for a cat is the equivalent of three chocolate bars for a human.

The pet food industry also has to take its fair share of blame.

It actively markets calorie-filled, over-priced treats and is encouraging pet owners to spoil their beloved animals more than ever over Christmas.

As with overweight humans the answer is, of course, that if a pet takes sufficient exercise and has a calorie-controlled diet then he or she will have a healthy body weight.

Luckily the cat pictured, Meatball, is coping well with a strict diet and was successfully rehomed last month to a home with a garden, enabling him to be more active.

Whilst on the subject of food, please note that the ManxSPCA Tearooms will be closed from Monday, December 21, and will reopen on Tuesday, January 5.

The animal sections are open throughout the festive period from 1pm to 4pm, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day (and the usual closed days of Mondays and Thursdays).

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