Obesity and Weight Management

With nearly 50% of our pet population clinically assessed as being overweight or obese, it is more important than ever to monitor how much and what type of food we feed our pets.

There are many reasons attributing to our pets becoming overweight and occasionally this can be down to medical reasons but as with humans the most common reason is overeating-consuming more calories than they actually need and use!

Several factors can make it more likely that your pet will become overweight including lack of exercise, overfeeding during their growth period (increasing the number of fat cells the body produces), their breed, age and whether they have been neutered. Neutered animals require up to a 30% reduction in their daily feeding requirements as their energy needs decrease dramatically after neutering.

Although an overweight pet may seem extra cuddly to you, being overweight can lead to serious health problems including:

  • Joint and mobility problems-including cruciate disease and arthritis
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • FLUTD in cats-Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder
  • Decreased quality and length of life

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Often pet owners do not realise their pet has gained a few grammes or kilos as you are used to seeing them every day and don’t notice the changes. Your veterinary surgeon will usually notice any changes in your pet’s weight at their annual booster appointment and this can be a good time to address any issues there may be about your pet’s weight. Being even a few kilos overweight can cause vital body organs to become encased in fat, reducing their ability to function considerably.

Many studies have been carried out on overweight pets with Royal Canin at The University of Liverpool. They perform special scans called DEXA scans (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry). These analyse the animal’s body composition including the amount of fat present.

In a healthy pet you should be able to comfortably see and feel their ribs and waistline. You may have noticed subtle changes such as reluctance to play or exercise as much which can all be indications of being overweight.

At Cinque Ports Vets we will happily check your pets’ weight and offer any help and advice needed at our Weight Clubs. We will also help you assess your pet using a Body Condition Score Chart like the example below. A healthy pet should score 4-5/9.

How can I help my pet lose weight?

The first step would be attending one of our weight clubs to establish how much weight your pet would need to lose. If your pet is only slightly overweight a simple reduction in your pet’s everyday diet or treats and an increase in their exercise and activity levels may be all that is required.

If however your pet has a substantial amount of weight to lose your veterinary surgeon or nurse may recommend a change in their diet to a prescription calorie controlled diet. Your veterinary nurse will calculate a tailor made weight loss program to help your pet lose weight. Depending on the amount of weight to lose this can take from 12 weeks to 12 months. It is very important for the health of your pet that they lose weight safely and slowly to ensure that they only lose fat tissue instead of muscle mass.  It is helpful to attend the club every 2-3 weeks so your veterinary nurse can assess this. It is not advisable to drastically reduce your pet’s usual food as this reduces the amount of nutrients they receive and can affect their health.

Once your pet has successfully lost weight they will be put on a weight maintenance program to help ensure that the weight doesn’t come back! Unfortunately your pet will always be prone to gaining weight easily if their diet isn’t strictly controlled but your veterinary nurse can help and advise on which feeding regime will most suit your pet after their diet.

Tips for exercising your dog

  • Regular and appropriate exercise is vital for maintaining your dog’s health and is especially important for weight loss. If your pet is overweight it is important to introduce extra exercise slowly. Begin with their usual exercise and try adding an extra 5 minutes. If your pet copes well with this increase for a week or so you can try increasing to the next level.
  • Overweight dogs with joint disorders will probably find uneven and hilly walks uncomfortable and too strenuous. If it becomes difficult to increase their exercise, hydrotherapy can be helpful.
  • Make sure you play with your dog and their favourite toy for at least 5 minutes every day.
  • Use treat toys to make your dog work harder for their food but remember to make sure the food is taken from their daily allowance.

Tips for exercising your cat

  • Make sure your cat’s indoor environment has plenty of toys and activities, allowing natural behaviour such as climbing or hunting. Activity centres can be useful as this provides exercise opportunities even when you are out.
  • Buy a few extra cat toys- make sure you rotate them every few days as cats easily lose interest. 
  • Playing with your cat using a fishing toy or a feather tickle stick are great ways of encouraging exercise and your cat will benefit from spending time with you.  Cats are designed to have short bursts of energy so playtime only needs to last a few minutes each session.
  • Use see through treat balls (cats need to see the kibble to encourage play) to make your cat work harder for their food and try moving their feeding bowls to unusual locations to make them search for their meals.
  • Groom your cat- this is great for circulation and their coat.
  • Remember table scraps are inappropriate for pets-especially those on a weight loss program!
  • Tasty low calorie treats are available from your veterinary practice. Educ treats are less than 3 kcal per treat and are suitable for both puppies and adult dogs. These are an ideal substitute for your pet’s usual snack.

Take a look at this list of unhealthy snacks given to pets and what they mean in human terms.

Human Equivalent

Number of hamburgers

Number of chocolate bars (50g)

Snacks fed to a 10kg dog

1 small plain biscuit



1 slice of buttered toast



30g (1oz) cheddar cheese



Snacks fed to a 4.5kg cat

1 crisp

0.5 0.5

30g (1oz) cheddar cheese



1 cup of milk 4.5


Real weight loss success stories

Many pet owners have taken the step of helping their pets to lose weight successfully, along with the help of Cinque Ports Vets.

Echo Murkin

Echo is a 13 year old neutered, female Cairn Terrier. Following an investigation which included blood tests and X-rays, she was diagnosed with emphysema. Echo had been persistently coughing with considerable breathing difficulties and at the time she weighed 13kg with a Body Condition Score of 8/9.
After discussion with her owner alongside starting medication, a weight loss plan was introduced. Echo was started on Royal Canin Obesity diet to be divided into two meals a day along with a dental chew. No other treats or table scraps were allowed!
Although Echo was unable to undertake vigorous exercise due to her condition, she was exercised on a daily basis. She regularly attended the weight management club and continued with her prescription diet.
Her symptoms have completely resolved and Echo now has a perfect Body Condition Score of 4/9 and weighs 9.9kg!

Useful links:

Useful books:
Caring for an overweight cat by Andrea Harvey and Samantha Taylor

Caring For Your Older Cat

You can do a lot to ensure that your cat’s senior years are also golden ones. Your cat will be classed as senior from approximately 8-10 years old.

As your cat grows older it is important to be more observant about their behaviour. Start keeping an eye on them for any indications that they are beginning to feel ready to start taking things more steadily. Age related changes can creep in stealthily and may initially be quite subtle. It can be easy to miss them when you see your cat on a daily basis. Often it is when someone who hasn’t seen your cat for a while, comments on a change in their behaviour or appearance. This often happens when your vet sees them for their annual booster appointment.

Common signs of ageing:

  • Less active
  • Sleeping longer and more deeply
  • Less enthusiastic playing games
  • Reduced or loss of hearing
  • Impaired vision or blindness
  • Coat condition deteriorates
  • Muscle loss
  • Weakness in back legs

Joint Problems

Arthritis is relatively common in older cats although they do not often show the lameness signs we associate with dogs suffering from arthritis. This is because cats are relatively small and agile and they can hide and cover up mobility difficulties caused by arthritis.
Instead, affected cats are more likely to show subtle changes in lifestyle and behaviour. It is thought 20% of the UK cat population shows signs associated with arthritis. Because you know your cat best you are well placed to keep an eye out for the signs of this painful condition.

Freedom from pain can make a huge difference and this can be done using many different methods including anti inflammatories (pain relief), joint supplements, weight loss, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy.
Comfy beds are also important. Older cats tend to prefer to stretch out and may need an extra ‘step’ to help jump onto chairs or beds. They also prefer their beds to be in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the house.

Litter trays should always be provided in the house, but an older cat may need extra trays as some control of bladder and bowel movements may be lost with age. Reduced mobility may result in a reluctance to walk too far to go to the toilet. The trays should always be large and shallow for easy access. Some have a dip at the front so cats can just walk in and out of them. Soft litter also tends to be better for older cats than wood pellets as it can be uncomfortable for cats to stand on.

Eating And Drinking

Older cats require a senior diet to help support them during their ageing process. Many cats lose weight and condition as they age. Sometimes this is due to deterioration in their sense of smell and taste but often it can be a sign of an underlying chronic disease like hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Older cats often have increased water requirements and feeding wet food aswell as biscuits can help with this.
Fresh water should always be available. Sometimes an older cat will start to drink more than usual and in many cases this can be a symptom of kidney problems or diabetes. If you notice any of these changes you should arrange an appointment to come and see us.

Vaccination And Worming

Older cats immune systems become less efficient and weakened over time. Infections are picked up more easily and as a result, senior cats may not be able to fight off disease as well as they could when they were younger. We advise regular annual boosters in senior cats. Regular worming is also advisable, both for your cat’s health as well as your own.

Kidney Disease

Due to the ageing process important organs such as the kidneys may not function as well as they used to. It is important to detect these signs early and the warning signs are often increased thirst and urine production. Cats are three times more likely to develop kidney problems than dogs but most do not show signs of chronic kidney disease until 75% of the kidneys have been damaged. Regular check- ups by your vet along with urine and blood testing are vital to help detect the onset of kidney disease and we can help take steps to slow down the progression of the disease, allowing cats a longer and better quality of life.

Dental Disease

Dental problems are very common in older cats. Warning signs are smelly breath, reddening of the gums, salivation or chewing to one side. If left, it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of their teeth. The bacteria in plaque can even spread to other parts of the body and have been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease. If you notice any of these problems you should make an appointment to see your vet.
If severe dental disease is diagnosed, generally a general anaesthetic is required to scale and polish the teeth and remove any diseased ones. Many people worry about the risk involved with older pets having a general anaesthetic but although every anaesthetic carries a small risk, advances have been made in anaesthesia and it is now much safer. Intravenous drips and blood testing prior to anaesthesia also help. Many owners are amazed with the improvement of their cat’s quality of life once the pain of toothache has been removed.

Brain Changes

Older cats can suffer from signs of dementia and reduced brain function-cognitive dysfunction. Some of the first signs that can point towards senile changes are:

  • uncharacteristic aggression
  • confusion
  • staring into space
  • a reduced ability to cope with stress or changes in their routine
  • frequent and sometimes loud vocalisation
  • urination or defecating in inappropriate places
  • memory loss

It is thought over 50% of cats over 12 years old show signs of cognitive dysfunction.

We can support and hopefully improve the brain function by medication or dietary supplements so it is important you book an appointment to see your vet if you start to notice any of these signs.

Play should also be encouraged for an older cat as this provides exercise and mental stimulation. The games may not be quite as energetic as when they were a kitten but will be very beneficial for your cat.
Also make sure your cat is microchipped in case they become disorientated while out and about and cannot find their way home. If this is a problem consider trying to keep your cat indoors.


Regular grooming can be helpful especially if your cat suffers from arthritis as this can make it painful for them to groom themselves. It also allows you to regularly check for any lumps and bumps and seek prompt veterinary attention if you are concerned. Regularly nail trims will also be required as older cats nails tend to grow thicker and longer. They are also less able to retract their claws and therefore more likely to become stuck in carpets.

Even if your older cat seems fine it is essential to take them to the vet a minimum of twice a year, instead of just the usual annual booster check up. This will aid in the early detection of problems as a lot of changes can happen in 6 months to an older cat. Blood and urine tests will also help to check all their vital organs are functioning properly. If you do spot anything, don’t put off booking an appointment because you are worried about what the vet may find. It is important problems are detected early to aid in treatment. Constant low grade pain reduces quality of life considerably and many owners are always amazed at the improvement of their cat’s wellbeing once their problem has been alleviated or controlled.
Early warning signs of health problems:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urine output
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty in movement
  • Incontinence
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual lumps and bumps
  • Behavioural changes
  • Discharges
  • Unpleasant odours
  • Hairloss
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Senility with associated loss of memory

Our veterinary nurses also offer senior club appointments to help ease your pets into their mature and senior years as comfortably as possible. Why not answer our Senior Pet Questionnaire and come along and see us.

Click on the videos below to find out more about Cognitive Dysfunction and Caring For Your Older Cat.

Useful links:
Feeding Your Older Cat
Cognitive Dysfunction

Arthritis (Osteoarthritis-OA)

Also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) occurs as a result of wear and tear on the joints over time.  Osteoarthritis is most common in older animals due to the progression of normal wear and tear over the years.   In some cases osteoarthritis will be present at an earlier age due to specific joint diseases such as hip dysplasia or cruciate disease.  These cause instability in the affected joint and therefore there is accelerated wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis which is common in humans is less common in dogs.

The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is lameness.  Often this will be intermittent or wax and wane.  Often it will be worse when your pet first gets up.  Some animals don’t have an obvious limp but may be generally stiff. They may be slow getting up after lying down, or may not be as enthusiastic about their walks as usual.  Often these signs of joint pain are mistaken for slowing down with age but osteoarthritis causes pain in and around your pet’s joint.

Osteoarthritis in cats

Because cats are relatively small and agile, and because arthritic changes in joints often affect both sides-for example both left and right hindlimbs-it can be hard to spot signs of obvious lameness. Arthritis may occur wherever there is a joint. It may affect the forelimbs, hindlimbs or spine, or a combination of these areas. Cats generally don’t limp even when they are in pain as they are especially good at hiding signs of pain. Instead, cats affected by arthritis are more likely to show subtle changes in their lifestyle or behaviour. The signs may manifest as sleeping more, grumpiness or lack of grooming. Learning to recognise these signs in your cat will allow you to monitor their condition and assess their response to any changes you make such as giving medication.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive and incurable condition but there are treatment options to help manage it and relieve the symptoms.


If your pet’s osteoarthritis is secondary to a specific problem e.g. cruciate ligament disease or patellar luxation, surgery may be an option to stabilise the joint and reduce the progression of the osteoarthritis.  In the most severe cases joint replacements may be an option but these are usually a last resort.


The most common class of drug used is non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) which provide both pain relief and reduce inflammation. There are various products available in different formulations.  Your vet will help you decide which one is most appropriate for your pet.  Side effects to the drugs we use are uncommon but all NSAIDs can potentially cause tummy upsets.  Sometimes other painkillers are used instead of or in conjunction with NSAIDs. Cartrophen is an injection given to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints.  It is usually administered as a course of 4 injections given 1 week apart.  Whist some dogs respond very well the degree and duration of improvement can be variable.

Weight control

This is a vitally important part of managing osteoarthritis.  Excess weight puts excess strain on the joints and greatly accelerates the wear and tear process.  If your pet is overweight then we will discuss a suitable diet plan with you.  Sometimes weight loss results in such an improvement in symptoms that we no longer need to use painkillers. Our veterinary nurses at Cinque Ports Vets run Weight Management Clubs to help you and your pet manage their weight loss.


It is vital to keep an arthritic pet moving to maintain muscle mass and joint mobility.  Exercise moderation is important, particularly for dogs.  Gentle regular exercise is preferable to occasional long or strenuous runs.  Although your dog may enjoy the exercise they will tend to be stiff and sore afterwards.  Try to find what level of exercise your pet can cope with that doesn’t aggravate the symptoms and do not exceed that.  Aim for several shorter walks each day.  If your pet has a ‘flare-up’ of osteoarthritis symptoms reducing the exercise for a few days can help the inflammation subside.

Hydrotherapy as a non-weight bearing exercise can help to improve muscle tone, improve the range of motion of the joints without putting stress on the joints and assist with weight loss. It is important to ensure that hydrotherapy is performed at a centre which is registered with the Canine Hydrotherapy Association. This means that they will regularly have been inspected and audited to receive their certification and will also liase with your veterinary practice in regards to progress and treatment. Hydrotherapy is performed in a controlled environment using warm water and specialised equipment. It is not the same as taking your pet swimming in cold water which causes constriction of their blood vessels near the skin and muscles, restricting their blood flow and making their muscles less efficient.  We can refer your pet to suitable centres for hydrotherapy.


These are dietary supplements which can help modify a disease process.  There is some evidence in humans that they slow the progression of osteoarthritis over time.  Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are the most commonly used.  These products are very safe with minimal side effects but as they are not considered drugs the products on sale are not tightly regulated.  It is important to use a reputable brand of product as the quality and concentration of the ingredients varies widely and is very often reflected in the price. Your veterinary surgeon will be happy to help you decide which product will be best suited to your pet.

Complementary treatments

Some pets appear to respond well to treatments such as laser therapy and acupuncture.  We are able to offer both these services at Cinque Ports Vets.

Laser Therapy

Our Class IV deep tissue laser therapy machine is designed to offer a surgery-free, drug- free, non invasive treatment to:

  • reduce pain
  • reduce inflammation
  • speed healing

The laser uses a beam of laser light to deeply penetrate tissue without damaging it. Laser energy induces a biological response in the cells called ‘photo-bio-modulation’, which increases circulation, drawing water, oxygen and nutrients to damaged cells. This leads to reduced pain, reduced inflammation and increased healing speed. Laser therapy has been scientifically proven to be successful in treating post surgical pain and many acute and chronic conditions as listed below:

Acute Conditions Chronic Conditions
Post surgical healing and pain relief Degenerative Joint Disease
Wounds Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Allergies Periodontal Disease
Infections Lick Granulomas
Cuts/Bites Geriatric Care
Inflammations Hip Dysplasia
Tooth extraction pain relief Tendonitis
Sprains,strains and fractures Otitis and much more!

For more information and FAQ’s please click here Commonly Asked Questions

Our Pet Health Counsellors offer free Mobility Clubs to help assist you and your pet cope with the problems osteoarthritis and aging can cause. Why not answer our Canine or Feline Mobility Questionnaire and see if your pet could benefit.

Click on the videos below to watch more about arthritis in dogs and how to help spot the signs of arthritis in your cat.

Please click on the videos below to see two dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis, who were trialled on Royal Canin Mobility diets. The before videos are taken on Day 1 and the after videos are taken on Day 50.

Useful links: