Seven previously-portly pets have been selected as finalists in the 2008 Hill's Pet Slimmer of the Year Competition. According to veterinary experts, pet obesity is reaching "epidemic" levels in countries all around the world including South Africa.
Collectively this year's entrants have lost almost half a ton of fat (462 kg), with the finalists shedding an average of 35% of their bodyweight. "The finalists have bucked the obesity trend by following a weight loss programme run at veterinary clinics," says Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor for Hill's Pet Nutrition and one of the competition judges.
Entrants – cats and dogs - had to have achieved their target weight by 31 August to be eligible to enter the 2008 competition. The finalists' selection was based on weight loss, the background story, the evidence (before and after photos) and the veterinarian's testimonial. Now the judges will be meeting each of the finalists before deciding on the winner (to be announced in late November). The top dog's owner will win a luxury holiday in Mauritius and three months supply of Hill's.
Dr Fyvie says that the primary cause of obesity in pets is similar to that in people - eating too much and exercising too little. Fyvie says that it is usually "loving owners" who overfeed their pets, without realising that they are literally "killing their pets with kindness".
Before they embarked on the weight loss programme Spaniels Vinkel and Koljander Pienaar (finalists from Pretoria) would wolf down a birthday cake each year, baked for them by their besotted owner. Tigger van Rooyen (a finalist from Durban) had been abandoned as a puppy; the family's domestic worker Pinkie Maphumulo felt so sorry for him she used to share her lunch with the dog and give him treats throughout the day until he ballooned to double his optimum weight.
Obese pets risk heart disease, cancer
"The majority of pets that are enrolled on the Hill's Pet Slimmer programme have had their health visibly compromised by being obese," says Dr Fyvie. "An overweight animal has a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and the extra kilos can cause arthritis and mobility problems that can be extremely painful." One finalist, Jessie Marais, was so overweight before taking up the challenge that she could no longer stand.
A study has shown that the life of an over-weight dog is shortened by at least two years (equivalent to a life expectancy shortfall in humans of about 15 years). And more than half the delegates at the recent Pet Obesity Epidemic Conference in London said that they knew of at least one animal that had to be euthanased because it was suffering from an obesity related disease, or was too obese for routine surgery.
According to Dr Fyvie the Hill's Pet Slimmer programme combines regular weigh-ins and exercise recommendations with a scientifically formulated 'diet' food for pets. Hill's Prescription Diet r/d has been formulated to assist overweight animals lose weight humanely. The food contains a special fibre that helps the pet feel fuller for longer and prevents hunger pangs, and specific 'weight-loss' nutrients, such as L-Carnitine which helps convert fat to energy and preserve muscle mass. "Unlike a 'light' pet food, which usually has just fewer calories and fat, Hill's r/d has been developed specifically to facilitate weight loss in obese pets, i.e. animals that weight 10 to 15% over their optimum weight," said Dr Fyvie.
Pets that would benefit from the controlled weight-loss programme should enrol now to be in the running for the 2009 competition. "It's never too late to help your pet slim to better health, so ask your vet for a professional and objective assessment of your pet's weight," advises Dr Fyvie.
The 2008 Hill's Pet Slimmer finalists are:
- Jackie Kriegler, a Jack Russell from De Doorns near Worcester (Western Cape) lost 3.6kg (32%), slimming from 11.40kg to 7.80kg.
- Jessie Marais, a Spaniel from Groenkloof, Pretoria lost 9.1kg (35.1%), slimming from 25.95kg to 16.85kg.
- Jackson Martin, an Australian Cattle Dog from Pretoria lost 10.65kg (31.1%), slimming from 34.20 kg to 23.55 kg.
- Vinkel and Koljander Pienaar, two Spaniels from Pretoria both lost 31.1% of their bodyweight, losing 5.2kg and 5.1kg respectively.
- Tigger van Rooyen, a Jack Russell cross from Durban North lost 20.19kg (51.8%), slimming from 39kg to 18.80kg.
- Thandi Weitz, a Staffie from Port Elizabeth lost 8.80 kg (31.4%) slimming from 28kg to 19.20kg.