Obesity in Pets

overweight dogAn estimated 30% of pets are either significantly overweight or obese

Obesity in cats and dogs has become a growing problem over the past several years. An estimated 30% of pets are either significantly overweight or obese. Many reasons exist, but it primarily boils down to not enough exercise and too many calories. Genetics, disease, and metabolism play a role, but to a lesser degree.


Health Concerns:

Health concerns can occur when a pet is obese. Excess stress on the joints from unneeded weight occurs, leading to earlier and/or more significant arthritis and resulting arthritic pain. This in turn leads to less voluntary activity which compounds both problems. Breathing difficulties occur especially in short nosed breeds. Extra fat in the throat and around the chest make tracheal (wind pipe) collapse more prevalent and full lung expansion more difficult. The pet also overheats more easily, making exercise difficult as well as dealing with the heat. Diabetes is very common, especially in obese cats. If an obese cat ever goes off food for whatever reason, body fat is used for energy and this can lead to excess fat deposition in the liver (hepatic lipidosis) and potential liver failure.


obese catWhat Can Be Done:

Extra calories that are not required to maintain a lean body mass contribute to weight gain. Here are a few tips to aid in cutting back those unnecessary calories:

  • Measure meal feedings – most bags of food have feeding guidelines. Every pet has a different requirement and may need more or less food than suggested depending on their age, activity level, and metabolism. Using a lower calorie, higher fiber food often helps keep them full.
  • Treats are a great way to bond with your pets. Remember, the pets’ reward is that they are getting something from you, they don’t care how large of a treat it is. Breaking the treat into smaller bits or using kibbles of food as treats are effective ways of controlling the caloric intake.
  • Exercise is important to burn fat. Lean muscle mass promotes fat burning and increased metabolism. It is important to start slow and gradually increase the exercise levels over time, all the while evaluating the tolerance levels of the pet. For example, start off with an extra 5 minutes of walking per day and gradually increase, or toss the mouse toy for the cat an extra 5 minutes. Swimming for dogs is a great low impact form of exercise.
  • If you have a little one in the house, it may be a good idea to separate the pet from the dinner table if there are children dropping (or sneaking) extra food.
  • So many times I’ve heard the pet has gained weight while staying at someone else’s house (Grandma and Grandpa I’m looking at you!). Try measuring out your pet’s meals and treats ahead of time with strict instructions (and, um…good luck…. 😉


What To Look For:

Some general rules of thumb to evaluate ideal adult body condition include:

  • It should be possible to feel the ribs while having a small amount of padding.
  • Viewing the pet from the side, there should be a tuck where the belly meets the hind legs.
  • Viewing the pet from above, there should be an “hourglass” shape.



Dr. Foster has over 19 years of experience practicing Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of MacTaggart Veterinary Clinic in southwest Edmonton.