Strategies for dealing with obesity in small pets (Day 127)

Guinea Pig obesity and weight loss in small mammals

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Supreme Pet Foods

Following on from last week where we looked at the problems of sugar and obesity in small animals today I want to look at strategies for dealing with obesity. To give a quick recap obesity is when an animal is more than 20% over their ideal body weight which is determined by using body condition scoring which takes into account the animals state of being (more on this later!).

Guinea Pig obesity and weight loss in small mammals

Anyways the first step is determining that your pet is overweight, generally with rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets you should be able to feel the spine and ribs however these should not be visibly prominent. If you cannot feel these then your pet is probably overweight, depending on the amount it may be a good idea here to seek help from your vet. Lots of practices now run free “weight clinics” where you have a qualified nurse to talk you through nutrition and how best to manage your pets weight. Even if its not advertised for small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, or ferrets if you talk to your practice most will actually accommodate your pet!

Now the golden rule to weight loss is that it should be slow and steady, if you decrease the amount of food too rapidly or skip a feeding then its possible for the animal to develop a life threatening condition known as hepatic lipidosis. This occurs when the body is forced to convert extreme amounts of body fat into energy causing a build up of fat cells in the liver preventing it from doing its normal functions (aka liver failure). If you suspect this you need to seek immediate emergency veterinary attention for your pet!

There are two factors in play here when it comes to nutrition; quantity and quality. As stated in the previous article you should be looking for foods which avoid high levels of sugar. Also consider what you are feeding, if it is a mix does your pet eat all of the food or are they just eating parts of it (known as selective feeding). It may be worth using different foods in combination to try and give a balanced diet. You should consider fruit to be a treat that is given once a week in tiny amounts as it contains loads of sugar. In addition you can also supplement this with daily fresh vegetables or herbs for example:

Rabbits: Look to feed leafy green veg and things like coriander or fresh mint

Guinea Pigs: As these are susceptible to bloat be cautious so dry hay or herbs and fibrous plants like dandelion leaves

As for quantity the first thing to do is look at how much you are feeding (weigh this!) and how much the instructions on the feed packaging says you should be feeding which can be an interesting comparison. If you are feeding more than you should start to reduce the amount gradually over 2 – 3 weeks.

Also consider how you give the food to your pet, things like using a feeding ball or scatter feeding can help increase activity and so burn more calories! I’ve got animal nutrition this coming semester so should be covering a lot more nutrition topics in more detail.

Sugar and Obesity in small pets, the problems… (Day 121)

Sugar and Obesity in Small Mammals

Todays Diary Entry is sponsored by: Find Pet Boarding

In the UK when your in school every child gets a free dental check and the yearly lecture on how sugar is bad for you, the question is how many of you have considered this when thinking about your pets?

Sugar and Obesity in Small Mammals

So now you are wondering how sugar affects animals lets start with the basics, what is sugar? Sugars are constructed from Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen atoms. They are rich in energy – this is because they have many Hydrogen:Carbon bonds which release energy when broken – and are used to power the body with roles in other functions such as the immune system, fertilization, blood clotting and development. The most basic type of a sugar is a monosaccharide (like glucose) which has one sugar molecule and is used as a building block for the more complex sugars known as polysaccharides (aka loads of glucose molecules joined together).When eaten by an animal sugars do not need digesting and are absorbed right from the gut into the blood.

Common sugars found in pet food include glucose, fructose, maltose and galactose which are all listed on the ingredients list. It is however important to be wary of “hidden sugars” which are contained in other ingredients such as mollasses with high sugar levels. Whilst in some species a little sugar is important, it is often used by pet food manufacturers to improve the palatability of their food or to help “hide” cheaper ingredients as pets can be discerning eaters.

There are several problems linked to sugar, however in some species such as ferrets which lack the capability to manage sugars it can in fact be deadly causing insulinomas. Other problems include obesity, diabetes mellitus, dental caries which are common across many species.

Obesity is being more than 20% over the maximum ideal body weight and in pets is caused by the body storing excess calories – the sugar that cannot be immediately used. This occurs when the blood sugar level reachs a trigger point sugar molecules are pushed into cells of the body by insulin for storage. Now this increases the size of the cells, and off course leads to weight gain. Within veterinary medicine the ideal weight is part of a larger picture or state of being for the animal and is determined using something called Body Condition Scoring. This is something I’ll cover in a lot more detail in a further article however for now with small mammals you should be able to feel the spine and ribs without them being too visibly prominant. The common problems associated with obesity in rabbits are not being able to groom themselves so leading to fly strike and becoming overrun with mites. In addition sores on the hocks are common, and the reduced movement of the animal also means that the animal will gain further weight faster.

Diabetes mellitus (otherwise known as sugar diabetes) is when the body can not produce enough insulin to deal with the amount of sugar in the diet. This is a chronic disease meaning that it will last for the rest of the animals life, has several severe complications including vision loss and requires very careful treatment in cooperation with your vet.

Dental caries are as much a problem for pets as they are for humans, I am planning to cover what pet dental care actually is at a later time and will discuss this then!

Hopefully you now have a better understand of how sugar and obesity affect pets, I will be writting more on the management and strageties for dealing with this later. In the meantime feel free to post any questions below in the comments box and talk to your vet if you have any concerns over your pets weight!

Click here for Part 2: Strageties for dealing with obesity in small pets