Hong Kong's pets pile on the pounds

The expanding girths of Hong Kong people are causing experts serious concern. Now it seems their pets too are piling on the pounds at an alarming rate as they feast on ever-richer tidbits.

Hong Kong’s first ever weight-loss programme for obese cats and dogs has been launched by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to tackle the problem and has proved such a success that it is fully booked for the next month.

The programme has been launched in response to growing concern among vets in the high-rise city of 6,8-million people that pets are getting increasingly fat and that their lifestyles are reflecting the sedentary lifestyles of their owners.

At the sessions, animals are given low-fat diet plans and exercise regimes to follow—and owners are warned that they might be killing their beloved animals with kindness unless they help them to change their lifestyles.

Spoilt dogs—particularly lap dogs like Pekingese and Pomeranians—are suffering from obesity-related ailments including arthritis and heart disease while increasing numbers of overfed pet cats are becoming diabetic and needing insulin injections, vets say.

Veterinary nurse Maggie Au, who runs the weight-loss programme, said one two-year-old cat referred to the programme weighed in at more than eight kilograms—twice as much as its healthy weight.

“All the cat did was sleep and eat,” she said. “It didn’t play at all.
Owners should play with their pets, even if it’s just for a few minutes every day.”

Dr Jane Gray, chief veterinary surgeon for the SPCA, said the problem of pet obesity appeared to be growing in line with the general trend towards unhealthier diets and lifestyles in Hong Kong.

“Everyone knows about the problem of ‘McDonald’s children’ in Hong Kong, and it is similar with pets,” she said.

“Obesity is a problem in society in general. People are getting more obese and animals are getting more obese. People think pets are more cute when they are fatter, but the animal probably doesn’t feel cute when it’s carrying those extra kilos.”

The declining health of pets mirrored the lifestyles of their owners, she said. “People work long hours in Hong Kong and don’t get the chance to exercise their pets,” she said.

“You don’t see them much and you come home and like to feed them. You want to treat them because they love you if you treat them. It is natural human emotion to want to feed an animal when it looks at you. It is like children. People spoil pets in exactly the same way they spoil children.”

Gray said it was up to owners to change their pets’ eating habits.

“Animals don’t open fridges by themselves. They can’t say ‘I am going to have that McDonald’s burger or that piece of cheese or chocolate’,” she said. “Human beings are in total control over what the animal eats.”

Nevertheless, Gray said cunning pets can use other ploys to get their way.

“Children might have temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Animals don’t have tantrums but they can sulk and behave in a similar way.”

Owners who attend the classes are encouraged to stop spoiling their pets, to exercise them more and to move them gradually towards healthier diets—in particular feeding them proper pet food and not tidbits from owners’ meals.

Nurse Au said: “Many pets are being given human food. Owners are giving them meat, chicken, pork and whatever they are eating.

“Pets are getting very overweight and they are suffering from hip problems and knee joint problems and injuring themselves when they try to do usual things like jumping on or off a sofa.”

Diet plans are given to pets under the programme which target weight loss of around one quarter to one half a kilograms a month, she said. Like humans, it can be dangerous for overweight pets to lose weight too rapidly.

The weight-loss programme for pets comes amid mounting concern from doctors over the health of Hong Kong’s population of 6,8-million, notorious for their hard-working lifestyles which allow little time for exercise and sport.

A University of Hong Kong study last year concluded that inactivity was killing more people in the territory than smoking with the deaths of 6 500 people a year—one in five of all deaths—attributable to a lack of exercise and bad diets.

The SPCA has around 25 000 members in Hong Kong and charges $11 a session for initial consultations for pets who need to lose weight.

The programme, launched late last year, is fully booked for January and may be expanded to twice a month or more because of growing waiting list. ‒ Sapa-DPA