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Fat pets a weighty issue
Publication Date : 03-07-2012
After years of feasting on char siew and abalone, Ah Mao weighs nearly 11kg - more than double his ideal weight.
Ah Mao is accounts officer Lin Miaohui's 11-year-old pet cat. Dry cat food and tuna alone do not satisfy the local short-haired tabby. He meows pitifully when his human housemates sit down to a meal, pawing at their legs for scraps, and turns up the intensity of his 'Puss-In-Boots gaze', says Lin, 29.
Veterenarians and pet experts interviewed say that, with growing affluence, pet owners are over-feeding their dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits and even turtles.
Ricky Yeo, a dog behaviour expert who runs The Dog Listener Consultancy here, has observed a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of overweight dogs at dog-related events in the past three years.
Says Yeo, who is also the president of animal welfare organisation Action For Singapore Dogs: "With increasing affluence, dog owners are treating their pets like children. Dogs are pampered with excessive food and treats. And with owners' busy schedules, these dogs do not get adequate exercise and become obese."
Like overweight humans, obese pets have a higher risk of getting diabetes mellitus, lower urinary tract disease, joint disease and osteoarthritis. They are also more prone to fatty liver, decreased stamina and non-allergic skin conditions - due to the inability to groom efficiently - says Dr Cathy Chan, a veterinarian at The Animal Doctors.
These factors are why obesity can shorten a pet's lifespan.
Dr Hsu Li Chieh from The Animal Clinic warns that a fat dog is less able to regulate its body heat, causing it to suffer more in Singapore's hot climate.
For these reasons, dog-owner Christina Lim wants to help her eight-year-old shih tzu lose weight.
Mango, who weighs 11kg, is slightly bow-legged - a condition that predisposes her to joint problems and can be exacerbated by her weight. Her ideal weight is between 4.5kg and 7.3kg.
"She can spend up to 20 hours a day lying down, not moving," says Lim, 32, a retail sales manager with a courier services company.
"But she's very alert to the sound of the microwave oven. Once she hears someone using it, she will gallop to the kitchen. That's the only time she runs. She's very, very food-driven."
Once, Mango scarfed down a whole box of liqueur chocolates, with their foils still on, when her owner's back was turned.
Lim feeds Mango the recommended serving of low-fat kibbles and allows her to snack on only fruits instead of dog treats. But Lim's helper Wati, 32, the dog's main food giver, cannot resist sharing her own lunch with Mango.
Says Lim: "She cannot help herself when Mango gazes at her with those expectant, limpid brown eyes, and puts a paw on her knee."
Getting Mango to lose weight through exercise is an uphill challenge. The dog refuses to finish her walks and plays fetch half-heartedly with Venus, 11, Lim's other dog - a maltese that is not overweight.
Such stories are not new to Dr Chan. "Treats and table scraps are usually the culprit. It is very hard to resist a begging dog or one that would perform for treats. We often hear of dogs being fed fried chicken, french fries, fatty pork and so on," she says.
Dog breeds that tend to exhibit more gentle characteristics, such as the golden retriever, shih tzu and lhasa apso, are more susceptible to obesity, says Yeo. However, the main causes of obesity are over-feeding and not exercising enough, he added.
Pet experts highly recommend restricting feeding to designated feeding times. Rodents store food inside their pouches for up to 48 hours and their food bowl does not need to be topped up incessantly, explains Dr Chan. Sunflower seeds, which have high fat content, should not be their primary food source.
As Melissa Lim, a committee member of the Cat Welfare society puts it: "People need to understand that there is no need for free-flow cat food buffets 24/7."
Ruth Phua, 30, an analyst, is trying to get her 8kg local shorthaired cat, Ah Gao, four, to lose weight by feeding it only two meals of dry cat food - once in the morning and once in the evening.
She says: "We are really concerned about his weight. Ah Gao's latest blood test shows that he doesn't have diabetes but we were warned that he could suffer health issues if he continues overeating."
But it is not easy getting Ah Mao to do the same. If they ignore him, he attacks their hands and legs with outstretched claws. As a result, slices of meat are quickly surrendered. His favourite foods are char siew and fried fish - and not steamed, mind you.
"My 62-year-old aunt is the primary caregiver and she believes that if he is asking for food, he must be hungry. I've given up trying to explain to her that it isn't so," says Lin.