Slimming down Fido & Kitty
Obesity is a large concern with Canada’s pets, and pet food companies are responding with more and better products
By Treena Hein
On the whole, we humans in developed countries have a hard time keeping the pounds off, and it’s not surprising that a large percentage of our pets are in the same situation. As we age, our activity level usually decreases and long, cold Canadian winters don’t help either. But whether it’s humans or pets, weight control is worth the effort.
“Obesity is a disease associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes, arthritis, lower urinary issues, cardiorespiratory conditions and many other disease processes,” notes Royal Canin veterinarian Dr. Sara Ritzie. She says the rate of overweight and obese pets in North America is increasing, with recent studies suggesting that between 22 to 40 per cent of dogs and up to 30 per cent of cats are overweight.
Michele Dixon, Health and Nutrition Specialist at Petcurean of Chilliwack, B.C., agrees that obesity is a significant risk factor for many life-threatening diseases that affect both dogs and cats. “Diabetes and obesity in cats often go hand-in-hand,” she notes. “For dogs, being just slightly above ideal body weight can significantly decrease their lifespan and quality of life.”
This is supported by the research of Nestlé Purina, which conducted the only canine lifelong diet restriction study (over 14 years and involving 48 Labrador Retrievers). The results show that maintaining a lean body condition can extend median life span by 15 per cent – nearly two years. Dean McNeill, manager of Public Relations at Nestlé Purina Petcare Canada, adds that as the dogs in the study aged, the lean-fed group experienced a two-year delay in the loss of lean body mass compared to the control dogs.
Recommendations and products
Pet food companies generally recommend that consumers team up with their veterinarians when putting a cat or dog on a weight loss program, to aim for slow weight loss and to include exercise. Royal Canin has several different formulas for weight management and weight loss, enabling veterinarians and pet owners to choose the best formula for each pet. “Royal Canin has worked very hard on managing a pet’s hunger between meals by focusing on the satiation aspect of our weight loss diets,” Ritzie says, “making it easier for owners to adhere to the feeding plan.” She notes that one of the key factors in pet weight loss success is owner compliance. In addition to appetite satisfaction, Royal Canin’s weight loss formulas include adjusted nutrient profiles to ensure that calorie restriction does not lead to nutrient deficiencies, and nutritional support to keep the animal in optimal health during weight loss.
Dixon at Petcurean says a significant portion of the customer enquiries they receive are connected to pet obesity and weight management. “Our NOW FRESH Senior dog and cat recipes, as well as our NOW FRESH Small and Large Breed Senior dog recipes contain a moderate amount of protein, reduced fat, and a moderate level of fibre to create balanced diets that are lower in calories,” says Dixon. “This helps to promote weight loss while helping pets feeling satisfied.” For cats with diabetes (requiring a reduced carbohydrate diet), Petcurean offers GO! FIT + FREE Chicken, Turkey + Duck Pate or GO! SENSITIVITY + SHINE Freshwater Trout + Salmon Pate recipes.
FirstMate Pet Foods in Vancouver, B.C. offers two dog foods for weight loss. “In our ‘Grain Free’ category, our FirstMate Pacific Ocean Fish Weight Control/Senior formula has gained a substantial amount of demand over the past few years,” says Sales & Marketing manager Matt Wilson. “This formula is a Limited Ingredient Diet (LID), a formulation concept our company developed in 1995. LID diets have grown in popularity since then as they are ideal not only for regular feeding but they are also noted to improve digestion while reducing the likelihood of a food allergy or stomach upset.” The firm’s other weight loss dog food is Trim & Light, which includes grains.
Purina offers several product lines specially formulated for weight management or maintenance. They include Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets OM Overweight Management, Pro Plan Weight Management, Dog Chow Lite and Healthy, Beneful Healthy Weight, and Purina Cat Chow Advanced Nutrition Weight Management.
In a mid-2014 Euromonitor International report, the research firm states that there is currently strong demand for premium, gourmet-style dog food products made from natural and locally sourced ingredients, “as Canadians become more inclined to spoil or pamper their animal companions.”
FirstMate is currently focused on developing products that use both high-quality and regional ingredients – and communicating that to the public. “Consumers today are looking to support companies that are trustworthy,” says Wilson. “To that end we have invested in our own manufacturing facilities…We source our own ingredients and have a greater level of control over production and quality.”
Petcurean also uses nearby and premium ingredients. “We choose to partner with a trusted network of local farmers and ranchers who can provide us with the freshest and highest-quality ingredients possible,” says Dixon. “All of the meat proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables in our GO! and NOW FRESH products are sourced from North America as close to the production facility as possible, with the exception of our lamb and venison which are sourced from Australia and New Zealand.”
A popular functional premium ingredient is healthy fats. Purina’s dog foods include omega-6 fatty acids from plant sources, and omega-3 fatty acids, typically from marine sources. “These fatty acids are important components of a dog’s diet and have a variety of biological functions,” notes McNeill, “including promoting healthy skin, coat and immune system, and helping to regulate inflammation.”
The Euromonitor report also notes that Canadian consumers are expected to continue buying pet foods that provide optimum benefits for dogs at different life stages, with different activity levels, and of specific breeds. Furthermore, Euromonitor says economic uncertainty, rising urbanization, an aging population and busier lifestyles have made more pet-inclined Canadians to favour smaller breeds. Eukanuba offers seven breed-specific dog foods, including one for Dachshunds and Chihuahuas. However, Harrison Pet Products of Kitchener, Ont. only offers one breed-specific food – for German Shepherds – but it’s mostly sold in Europe and some Asian countries.
“Breed Health Nutrition is a large part of our retail portfolio,” says Ritzie at Royal Canin. “[We offer] formulas for different breeds of dogs and cats based on their size, body type and predispositions, with kibble designs customized to the size and shape of the face and jaw to encourage chewing and improve digestibility.” Royal Canin’s first breed-specific food was for Persian cats, after research revealed that unlike other breeds of cats, Persians pick up food using the bottom of their tongue. This makes it very difficult to pick up and chew traditional flat kibbles. Launched in 1999, the Royal Canin Persian formula has a nutrition profile to support the unique characteristics of the breed, and an almond-shaped kibble easier for these cats to pick up and eat.
In addition to the Persian cat formula, Royal Canin currently offers four other breed-specific cat foods in Canada and 16 breed-specific dog foods, and Ritzie says it’s possible that the number of Breed Health Nutrition formulas the company offers could increase.