April 20th, 2022
Obesity has become an extremely important health problem in the Western world, not just for humans but for dogs and cats as well. Obesity in pets is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, respiratory compromise, and decreased life span. Recent studies show approximately 60% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are classified as obese or
overweight, making obesity an epidemic. Most pet owners underestimate their pet’s
body condition, in part because overweight pets are so common that an overweight body condition now seems to be normal. We can assure you that there is nothing normal about being overweight.
Why Obesity is Bad
- an over-weight animal places extra unneeded stress on their joints
- a constricting jacket of fat around the chest makes the pet less able to take deep breaths
- like humans, overweight pets are more prone to diabetes
- an issue with cats, the liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails
Reduced Life Span
- a study comparing age-matched Labrador retrievers found dogs kept slightly skinny lived approximately 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts
Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk
- drug dosing becomes less accurate (hard to estimate a patient’s lean body mass for drug dosing if too fat)
- constrictive jacket of fat makes breathing harder
- surgery in the abdomen made harder by extra fat (slippery, harder to see normal structures)
Why is my pet overweight or obese?
- this seems obvious, but many people don’t realize they’re overfeeding their pets, and simply think their overweight animal is “normal”
- they don’t take into account that treats given to the animal can make for a lot of extra calories
- if allowed to roam the neighbourhood, your pet may be finding other supplemental sources of food
- dog breeds with genetic tendencies towards obesity include the: Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog, Boxer, Cairn Terrier, Basset Hound, and Labrador Retriever
- hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can slow down a pet’s metabolism
Spaying and Neutering
- while desirable to reduce unwanted pets, sterilizing does change a pet’s underlying hormone levels, creating a tendency to form more fat cells
The Treatment is Diet and Exercise
Remember that simply reducing the amount of a regular diet (one not designed for weight loss), can lead to deficiency in vitamins or minerals. This generally means feeding a prescription diet made for weight loss is better (the typical “lite” or “less active” diets you often see advertised or available at the pet food store are meant to prevent weight gain, not actually result in weight loss). Always follow the exact guidelines for feeding provided by the veterinarian, and reduce or eliminate treats from the diet (again, in concert with your veterinarian).
As a general rule of thumb:
- high-fiber diets tend to work best for dogs
- low-carbohydrate diets tend to work best for cats
How can I judge if I’m feeding my pet properly?
Besides doing your research on the quality of your pet’s diet, you can do some quick and easy checks of how your pet is doing by consulting the following guidelines:
Body condition scoring
An easy-to-follow set of standards has been established to judge if your pet is overweight (a common finding in pets) or underweight, based on factors such as whether their belly hangs low, or you can’t feel their ribs. Learn to use these tools and you’ll go a long way towards increasing your pet’s health and lifespan.
Recommended calories to feed:
While individual animals can have varying requirements for calories (based on things like their age, breed, level of activity, underlying health problems, etc.) it is helpful to have some rough guidelines to follow on what their average daily intake should be. The links are as follows:
Calorie Needs for Healthy Adult Cats:
Calorie Needs for Healthy Adult Dogs:
How to read a pet food nutrition label:
All that information regarding the nutritional analysis on your pet’s can or bag of food can be very confusing. The following is a handy guideline to help you interpret what all of that information actually means:
Like all things in life, there is plenty of information out there on the internet when it comes to your pet’s nutrition. We recommend you scan the following guidelines from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) for their advice on how to search for and judge the information you’re getting when you do online research:
The Savvy Cat Owner’s Guide to Nutrition on the Internet:
The Savvy Dog Owner’s Guide to Nutrition on the Internet: