As humans, we all know how hard it can be to turn down something delicious, even if we know it’s not good for us and we’re not actually hungry. We humans also know that too much of what we fancy on our dinner plate or an over-stocked snack cupboard not only adds up to weight gain, but can also contribute to a wide array of health problems too.
Like us, our pets love food, treats and snacks between meals. The difference is, they don’t understand the link between over-eating and getting fat like we do; nor are they concerned about the impact all those extra calories could have on their health. That’s why it’s up to us, as responsible pet owners, to manage portion control correctly.
There are several challenges to doing this. Firstly, providing food, treats and snacks is one of the key ways in which we express love for our pets and it can be hard to deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing how much they enjoy all those little indulgences. Indeed, dogs in particular are often very skilled at cajoling us to give them extra food by turning up the dial on their cute face or crying when they sense the merest whiff of food packaging being opened.
It’s vital not to give in to any emotional pulls on your heart strings when it comes to handing out food or treats, however. Mealtimes should be at regular times and provide consistent amounts of calories so that your pet becomes accustomed to when he/she can expect food and their appetite is regulated by receiving the same amount each time their bowl is filled. If you do want to give your cat or dog a treat, consider swapping one or two meals each week for a premium alternative to their regular food, such as one of the delicious recipes from The Feline Cuisine Company range launch by C+D Foods last year, for example. Alternatively, keep treats to a regular number that’s built into your feeding routine so that your dog doesn’t beg every time you walk towards the treat cupboard.
Begging can be a significant contributory factor to excessive weight gain in dogs, particularly if your dog has realised that begging while your human family is eating will result in food being passed down from your plates. Ideally you should never offer your dog the leftovers from your own meals as this means extra calories and the titbits that may not contain the complete nutrition your pet needs in the same way as an expertly formulated pet food. However, if you do decide to offer some of your food to your dog, this should be given in his/her own bowl at a regular mealtime to support your pet’s acceptance of a regular feeding routine and it should also only be offered if it is a healthy human food option in the first place.
Treats and leftovers are not the only cause of over-eating and weight gain in our pets, however. It’s also important to regulate the amount of pet food you give to your cats and dogs. The nutritional content and calories in pet food formulations are carefully calculated and the portion sizes outlined on the pack have been assessed as the required amounts by experts. Consequently, it’s important not to give in to the temptation to fill the bowl to the brim, provide a little extra because you expect to be home from work late or guestimate on the generous side because the recommended portion doesn’t look quite right to you. Remember, your cat or dog’s nutritional needs and recommended calorie intake will change depending on their size, age and level of daily activity – just like it does for us humans – so read the pack carefully and ask your vet if you’re in any doubt. As a rule of thumb, an 8lb cat requires around 240 calories per day, while a larger dog needs about 30 calories per lb of body weight and smaller dogs (under 20lb) require about 40 calories per lb of body weight per day.
No-one wants to think their pet might be hungry but it’s important to differentiate between actual hunger and greed or over-indulgence. Managing portion control for your pet with a food developed and prepared by pet nutrition experts is one of the best ways you can look after your cat or dog and it means that you will not only protect them from the misery of a diet but also reduce their risk of obesity-linked health conditions.