Tipping the scales: why pets are putting on the pounds

My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen pictured with the Fillmore family dog Niko.
My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen pictured with the Fillmore family dog Niko. Rachel Bardin

OBESITY isn't just a health issue for people; it's also becoming a real concern for our pets.  

It seems the bad habits of owners are contributing to an obesity epidemic affecting our furry friends. In the US it is estimated more than half of America's pets are overweight or obese.  

The problem has become so bad the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention was formed and it now releases an annual report on the health of America's pets.  

While there is less data available here in Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association estimated that as of 2013, 41 per cent of Australia's dogs and 32 per cent of cats were overweight or obese.  

Dog trainer and pet expert Travis Brorsen comes to the rescue in his new TV series My Big Fat Pet Makeover. Two years in the making, the show follows Travis as he devises weight-loss plans for overweight and obese pets.   

"We shot the pilot in 2015 and then we finally got the green light a year and a half later," he tells The Guide.   

My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen with Thor sitting on his cat tree.
My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen with Thor sitting on his cat tree. Supplied

"We started filming in January of 2017, so it was quite the process. We were just so passionate about it and Animal Planet is such a great network to work for."  

The Oklahoma native was working as an actor in Los Angeles, with guest roles in Desperate Housewives, JAG and Bones, when he auditioned for the reality show Greatest American Dog. Travis and his boxer Presley won the series, and he used the prize money to start his own dog training company.  

"I had moved the dog training company to New York City and I was in the midst of the day-to-day hustle and bustle when the production company (for My Big Fat Pet Makeover) gave me a ring," Travis says.   

"I wanted to bring a behavioural aspect to it and make sure we incorporate behavioural modifications into it, because a big part of owning pets is to make sure they behave the way we want them to.  

"We chose to domesticate them and we have a responsibility within that, not just to keep a roof over their head and give them plenty of food."  

Cameras follow Travis as he meets hefty hounds, chubby cats and even a portly pig and puts them and their owners on a strict regimen of diet and exercise.   

It's a matter of life or death for some animals; take rescue dog Gracie for example. Described as the "Mac truck of chihuahuas", Gracie's weight ballooned to 19kg following a knee injury and she couldn't have surgery to improve her quality of life until she lost at least a quarter of her body weight.   

My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen with Lisa and Madison Engels' dog Gracie.
My Big Fat Pet Makeover host Travis Brorsen with Lisa and Madison Engels' dog Gracie. Supplied

"For a lot of these owners, they didn't understand that change isn't just hard in life; it's hard with our own pets," he says.

"They said 'My dog is looking at me with those really sad eyes'. So I would say 'If he's mad at you for anything, it's that you're not taking him outside for exercise'. It's important that we helped them understand what the pet was going through and how the pet actually feels."  

In the case of fat cat Beau Nugget, it was an uphill battle to change the mindset of his indulgent owners Rick and Valerie.  

"If I turn the owners away or make them feel guilty or shame them then we're defeating the purpose of trying to reach our goal of helping the pet," Travis says.   

"I had to make sure I had my bedside manner under control because I needed them to buy into the process.  

"This really is a show about lifestyle change for the owners; the pets will fall into place... Doing nothing is not an option."  

Travis's tips for helping your pet lose weight:

1. Measure your pet's food.

2. Feed your pet to its ideal weight, not to its current weight.

3. When dogs are begging it doesn't necessarily mean food. Start with three, 30-minute walks a day.

My Big Fat Pet Makeover premieres on Animal Planet on Saturday at 5.30pm Qld, 6.30pm NSW.

Topics:  animal planet foxtel my big fat pet makeover television travis brorsen

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