Pet obesity: Why a fat cat or chunky dog isn’t so cute

A big fat cat or a chunky dog might make you laugh or coo, but an overweight animal is not a healthy animal.

Overweight dogs and cats are prone to shorter life spans, cancer, urinary bladder stones, osteoarthritis and other joint problems, and more.

Additionally, obesity can indicate other issues, such as hypothyroidism in dogs.

But as a society, we have become desensitized to obesity in dogs and cats – we are so used to seeing bigger pets that we don’t know what a healthy weight looks like anymore.

According to The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 56% of dogs are classified as overweight (body condition score [BCS] of 6-7) or obese (BCS 8-9). Even more cats – 60% – were classified as overweight or obese.

To take a different perspective, that’s 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats that are above healthy weight.

Obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs and cats. Here’s how to know if your pet is obese, and how to help them lose weight if they are.

How can I spot a weight problem in my pet?

The best way to determine if your pet is a healthy weight is to have them examined by a veterinarian, who will score your pet’s body condition from 1 (emaciated) to 10 (obese). However, there are ways you can check your pet yourself!

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, no matter what breed your dog is, you should:

  • Be able to feel all your dog’s ribs without a thick layer of fat over them.
  • See that your dog’s chest is wider than his abdomen; a dog that is the same size all the way down is overweight.
  • Note regular breathing (no excessive panting) and activity level (no laziness).

If you’re a cat owner, you should:

  • Feel the ribs – the padding over your kitty’s ribs shouldn’t feel any thicker than the padding over the back of your hand.
  • Look down at your cat while they’re standing. If they’re a healthy weight, you’ll notice a “waist” on them – a slight indentation over the hips. If their sides bulge out, they may be overweight. However, because many cats are fluffy, this method may be harder to use accurately.
  • Monitor their playfulness and grooming habits. Overweight cats sometimes stop playing or grooming themselves.

How should I exercise my pet?

There are many ways to exercise your pet, and some don’t even require leashing up and heading on a walk!

Take your dog on a run or walk, or play fetch for 15 minutes, twice a day. Chase your dog around the yard or house, or have them chase a laser pointer. In summer months, try taking your dog for a swim.

Cats can be exercised, too! Break out your laser pointer, or a feather, string, or other dangling toy to make your kitty jump and run. Cats aren’t opposed to playing fetch and chase, either – use a pompom or a small ball and roll it on the floor for your cat. Having a cat tree in the house encourages jumping and climbing, which are also great ways for your cat to get moving.

Not all dogs or cats can tolerate the same exercises. A Golden Retriever may thrive with a daily jog, but a Shih Tzu is another story. A kitten may do well with jumping, while a senior cat needs something less strenuous. Consult a [HOSPITAL NAME] veterinarian to ask which exercises are ideal for your pet.

What – and how – should I feed my pet?

Discuss your pet’s diet with your vet, too. The food that worked for them at the puppy or kitten stage might not be the best choice for an adult or senior pet. A simple food change can work wonders in an overweight dog or cat.

Additionally, make sure you’re feeding quality food. Your vet can recommend some brands that have only the nutrients your pet needs – nothing else.

Measure how much your pet eats. If you typically just “keep the bowl full” and your pet is getting a bit tubby, try feeding at specific times of the day, and only feed as much as your vet recommends. Avoid giving too many extra treats, too, but never limit access to fresh water.

If you think your pet is overweight, bring it up at your pet’s next checkup. We’ll tell you the best plan to get Fluffy and Fido back down to a healthy weight. You’ll notice a healthier, happier pet.