Obesity in Pets

By Noël – Lead Veterinary Technician/Medical Coordinator

Is my pet fat? You may have asked this question in the past, and if you haven’t, you may be asking it now. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), the stats are alarming. The APOP says that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs are classified as overweight or obese. The APOP also found that 90% of overweight cat and 95% of overweight dog owners failed to correctly identify the appropriate weight range for their animal. So what does this all mean? Why do the numbers increase every year? What are pet owners and veterinarians doing about it? Let’s trim the fat on pet obesity.

There are many factors that can contribute to obesity. One of the most common factors is overfeeding. We equate food with love. We love our pets, so we feed them a little extra food, extra treats, and even human food. Human food is much more calorically dense than pet food. So what seems like a small snack may actually be your pet’s entire caloric need for the day. If a pet is spayed or neutered, they have lower caloric requirements for healthy metabolism than a pet that is intact. For all of the health benefits associated with spaying and neutering, the lack of hormones tends to expand our pets waist lines. Weight gain is also gradual. It is not a sudden onset, so the weight tends to creep up and go unnoticed. When we see our pets every day, it may be hard to notice the few extra pounds. Busy schedules also mean less exercise. With all of the daily stresses and jam packed days, it may be hard to take the dog for that much needed long walk in the park. Or there may not be time to play with the kitty with their favorite cat toys. All of these factors can lead to a pet’s weight gain.

So what is so bad about some extra weight? Obese or overweight animals are at risk for many of the same diseases we are when we are overweight. Pets that are overweight have shorter life expectancies and are at higher risk of cancer. The extra weight puts stress on the bones and joints, thus the animals are at an increased risk for orthopedic diseases and chronic inflammation. Overweight animals run the risk of being in pain from those conditions. These pets are also at risk for cardiovascular and kidney disease. Obese pets are also at a much higher risk for diabetes. The diabetes risk is especially true for cats. Cats tend to have a much higher risk of having diabetes when they are overweight. So pets that are obese tend to not be as healthy as their fit counterparts.

How do you know if your pet is overweight? A trip to your veterinarian is where to start. Your veterinarian will take into account your pet’s overall health and body condition. Body condition is calculated using a chart called a body condition score. This assigns a number, or score, to your pet. This will denote whether the animal is too thin, of correct weight, or overweight. In some instances, veterinarians can use calipers to measure parts of the animal to calculate their body mass index.

How do you successfully start a weight loss program? The veterinarian can help you to feed an appropriate amount of food. Perhaps you don’t need a diet food. However, veterinarians have many successful and well balanced diet foods. Diet food is designed to be fed for weight loss at a healthy rate. It is important to bring the weight down slowly, especially with cats. Rapid weight loss in cats can be damaging to the liver. Based on your pet’s health and dietary needs, your veterinarian can also recommend an exercise regime in conjunction with a proper diet. Fewer treats, proper food, and more exercise can be the perfect recipe for a long and healthy life for our pets and even us!