Dr Alex German is a Professor in Small Animal Medicine at the University of Liverpool and the Director of the Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic. He is a leading expert in small-pet obesity.
Alex appeared on the University of Liverpool Podcast to discuss the rising prominence of obesity in household pets, particularly cats and dogs, and the potential consequences of the subsequent decline in animal health.
5 ways to tackle the rise in pet obesity
- Be vigilant! Pet obesity can often go unnoticed
Dr German describes obesity as “currently the single greatest threat to pet health.” But despite his own expertise in the matter, his own story is proof that pet obesity can strike in even the most aware households. “There is a single case that started this off, and I'm embarrassed to say it was my own cat, Clarence. When we were putting together the inspiration for our obesity clinic, I looked at my own three cats, and Clarence was obese. And, compared with others we've seen over the years, he was one of the worst.
When we see our pets each day, it can be hard to spot gradual changes in their weight and shape. Instead, owners should remain vigilant and make a determined effort to be aware of the pet’s weight. German says: “It's not like one moment your pet's fine, next moment they have obesity, it happens over days, weeks, months.”
- Understand the health risks for your pet
Dr German warns that, just as in humans, obesity can increase the risk that your pet will face serious health risks if their weight is not addressed.
“There are many other diseases that come along if as a dog you're overweight. The key health risk for dogs is arthritis and other joint and bone diseases. Diabetes is a problem, certain types of cancer, there's a burden on the heart and the respiratory system, breathing is obviously tougher if you have more body fat,” he says.
- Consider our own attitudes towards food
Could better education around how we – as humans – view food help to save our pets? Human obesity has risen in recent years, and pet obesity levels appear to have run parallel.
German says: “Many of the nurturing risk factors that can lead to children being overweight are very similar to those we see between an owner and their pet… It’s the family food environment – the attitudes and opinions towards food that the family possess. What is eaten, how much, and when?”
He adds: “There is an association between pets that are overweight and owners that are overweight. The two are linked. It comes back to this family bond that we’re talking about.”
- Be aware of bad role models
As well as not noticing the gradual increases in our pets’ weights, German believes another factor is also keeping pet owners ‘blind’ to their pet’s condition.
His own research found about 25 per cent of dogs on show at events like Crufts are overweight. He believes this is clouding judgments on the health of our own pets by providing a misinformed guide for what a healthy dog looks like.
He says: “They’re essentially thought to be the pinnacle of the breed… so owners will look at dogs in dog shows as the perfect specimens.
- Check if your pet is obese
Obese pets face an increased risk of arthritis, joint and bone diseases, diabetes, and cancer. There also unnecessary strains put on the heart and respiratory system, so keeping pets at a healthy weight is crucial.
Get your dog standing, then stroke your fingers – without applying any pressure – across its chest and ribcage. “You should be able to feel the bumps of the ribs quite easily,” says German. “If you’re having to push somewhat to be able to feel those ribs, chances are there’s too much body fat there.”
About this podcast
The University of Liverpool Podcast aims to bring listeners closer to some of the academic experts, authors and innovative thinkers from the University who, through their in-depth analyses, research and discoveries, are affecting positive change in the world today. Each episode features one or more of our academic experts discussing research in their specialist field. Subscribe to the University of Liverpool Podcast via iTunes, Tunein and Google Play Music (US and Canada only).
Did you know that you can study online with the University of Liverpool while you continue to build on your career? Find out more.