Over a thousand dogs and cats across the country have been shedding their 'killer kilos' on a controlled diet over the past year and are in the running for the 2008 Hill's Pet Slimmer of the Year title. The judges are gearing up to assess the entrants and organisers have put out a last call for entrants from pets that have successfully reached their goal weight by 31 August.
"Pet obesity is a growing problem around the world, including South Africa," said Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor to Hill's Pet Nutrition, who was a delegate at the recent Pet Obesity Epidemic Conference in London, where obesity was declared the biggest health issue facing domestic animals and a form of abuse.
"An overweight animal is at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer which literally take years off its life," said Dr Fyvie. "Furthermore the extra weight can cause arthritis and mobility problems that can be extremely painful."
Pet's life shortened by obesity
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 Pet Obesity Epidemic Conference knew an animal that had to be euthanased because it was suffering from an obesity related disease, or was too obese for routine surgery.
In the UK last year the RSPCA convicted two pet owners in criminal court for allowing their dog to become chronically obese. And according to UK reports The Guinness Book of Records has withdrawn its listings for heaviest animals over worries that some owners may be over feeding their pets to gain recognition.
Dr Fyvie says 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".
Last year's winner
Stitch Parsons, a Miniature Dachshund from Gauteng, won the 2007 Hill’s Pet Slimmer of the Year, having lost over half her bodyweight (52%), and slimming from an obese 15.7kg to a slender 7.6kg. Her devoted owner, Carina Parsons, had initially not been too concerned by Stitch's increasing girth, "there was more to love", but when her vet warned that the dog could die if it did not lose weight, Stitch was enrolled on the pet slimmer programme; she was fed carefully measured portions of Hill's Prescription Diet r/d and within eight months had reached her optimum weight.
Pets that have successfully reached their weight-loss goal during the past year can submit an entry with before and after photographs, for a chance to win the coveted Hill’s Pet Slimmer title, plus three month's supply of pet food and a trip to Mauritius for their owners.
Those that aren't ready to enter the 2008 competition can try again for next year. "It’s never too late to help your pet slim to better health. Veterinary practices run the weight loss programme all year round, so ask your vet for a professional assessment of your pet's weight," advises Dr Fyvie.