For most of us, pets are considered members of the family. As their caretakers, it’s our responsibility to help keep them healthy. But over the past several years, obesity in cats and dogs has steadily increased in the United States. An estimated 60% of dogs and cats are now reported to be overweight or obese. Animals that are overweight can suffer from many weight-related health issues, including a decreased quality of life. 

How can you tell if your pet is overweight? Veterinarians use a combination of your pet’s weight and body condition score. A body condition score is a standardized measurement of your pet’s fat coverage, body outline, and palpable bony prominences. You can determine your pet’s body condition score using an instructional chart found online. Speak with your veterinarian about how to perform body condition scoring and to compare scores. Most pet owners underestimate their pet’s body condition, which could lead to other health problems.

Unseen Consequences 

Even though there are many diseases associated with obesity, it is important to understand that obesity itself is a disease. Fat cells are pro-inflammatory, meaning they cause inflammation in the body. Having an overabundance of fat cells, as happens when an animal is overweight or obese, causes chronic inflammation. While not always obviously painful, overweight and obese animals are suffering from chronic inflammation, which leads to a lower quality of life. It also puts them at higher risk for other diseases. Overall, animals that are overweight have a shortened lifespan compared to animals of a healthy weight. Obese animals are more likely to develop dental problems, diabetes, arthritis, skin issues, and cancer.

Push Back From the Food Bowl

Obesity in animals can be caused by factors both inside and outside our control, but the most common cause is overfeeding. Cats and dogs fed more calories than they use each day will begin to store those extra calories as fat. Once fathas accumulated, it can be much harder to lose than it was to gain. Prevention of obesity is the first and easiest way to defend against it. It’s important to ensure you are feeding an appropriate amount of food and treats to your pet. Feeding guidelines printed on pet food are helpful, but the actual amount an animal needs can vary based on age, breed, and activity level. Speak with your veterinarian about how much to feed your pets to give them the right amount of calories. Bring a bag or can of your pet’s food with you so your veterinarian has all the information needed to calculate exactly how much you should be feeding each day. 

It can be dangerous for your pet’s health to suddenly reduce their caloric intake or switch diets, so work with your veterinarian to develop a safe weight loss plan. For many animals, this includes switching to a prescription weight loss diet. These diets have been specially formulated to prevent nutritional deficiencies on restricted calories. Feeding a regular pet food in a reduced quantity can cause your pet to not take in the necessary level of essential nutrients, which can be life-threatening. 

Treat Time

Remember to think about everything your pet eats, not just meals. Many people overlook the importance of treats and table scraps. Even if your pet is fed the right amount of food, he can still become obese by eating too many extra treats. If the thought of not giving your pet treats sounds too cruel to bear, there are healthy alternatives. In addition to prescription weight loss treats, many dogs enjoy carrots or green beans as a low-calorie treat replacement. For cats, 1- or 2-calorie mini treats can be purchased; just make sure to only feed a small amount each day.

Pet obesity is a growing epidemic, but we have the power to stop it. Unlike many ailments our pets might face, obesity is preventable and curable. Speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s weight each time you visit. Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle is the key to happiness and longevity.

Key Takeaways

  • Make sure you have an accurate measuring cup or kitchen scale to use at meal times – it’s easy to feed too much!
  • It is recommended to split daily feeding amounts into at least two meals to help your pet feel full.
  • Try low-calorie treats, such as green beans or carrots, in place of table scraps.

About the author

Dr. Jen Wilson-Cohen - Veterinarian
Jen Wilson-Cohen

Dr. Jen Wilson-Cohen received her DVM degree from Washington State University. Her focus is on shelter medicine, and she has special interests in surgery, nutrition, and education. She shares her home with two dogs and two cats.

Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region
610 Abbot Lane
Colorado Springs, CO 80905