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What to Do If Your Pet Is Overweight or Obese

Obesity in pets is a serious problem that is becoming more of a concern than ever before. Up to 60% of the dog and cat population are considered overweight or obese. Overfeeding is one of the leading factors contributing cat obesity. Overfeeding occurs when a pet is taking in more energy than it is burning. Pets that are 10-20% above their ideal body weight are classified as overweight, and those who are higher than 20% are considered obese. Here are a few tips and tricks you should know if your pet is overweight or obese.

What are the health risks associated with obesity?

Overweight or obese pets are at a greater risk for a variety of health conditions including the diminished overall quality of life of our feline and canine friends. Here are the most common ones:

  • Pets who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop diabetes, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancer.
  • The sheer weight of the animal causes more stress on the joints and may contribute to osteoarthritis and limited mobility.
  • Overweight cats may be more physically restricted regarding self-grooming. These limitations in grooming may be contributing factors to dermatological problems such as feline acne, alopecia, and scale formation. 
  • Physical examinations by veterinarians are impacted due to excessive body mass, and may render procedures such as blood drawing, ultrasounds, and physical palpation more difficult. Pets that are overweight or obese are also more likely to have adverse reactions to anesthetic.

Are some pets predisposed to obesity? 

Though most cases of obesity are a result of overfeeding and a sedentary lifestyle, there are some endogenous factors that can predispose an animal to weight gain or obesity. It is important to recognize if your animal has predispositions and adjust their lifestyle accordingly.

  • Your pet may be more at risk of becoming obese based on their age. As an animal ages, their basal metabolic rate decreases along with their daily energy needs. This means that your pet's metabolism slows down (as does their activity level in most cases) and their food intake must decrease accordingly to maintain an energy balance.
  • Caloric intake should decrease after sterilization of companion animals. The age at which pets are neutered typically corresponds to the natural decrease in growth and energy requirements. If pet owners continue to feed the same amount, their pet will gain weight. Because pets are often spayed or neutered just before maturity, the change in reproductive status is often blamed for weight gain, but the reason is usually a change in energy requirements due to age. That being said, there is a hormonal component that will affect food intake. Sterilized females tend to consume more, as they do not experience estrus, during which the animal will naturally consume less. The basal metabolic rate of sterilized animals also tends to be lower. This lower metabolic rate along with overconsumption will lead to an energy surplus and a weight gain.
  • Certain breeds are predisposed to weight gain as well. Studies suggest that in cats, mixed breed or domestic may be more likely to be overweight than purebred cats. While in dogs, it is suggested that Labrador Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Springer Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Basset Hounds and Pugs are most likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Food intake can be affected by many factors as well. A highly palatable diet and competitive social settings will both encourage animals to eat more regardless of their hunger level.

How can I ensure my cat maintains a healthy weight?

Regular vet visits and consulting a body condition score chart is a great way to ensure your pet is at their ideal weight.

To help your petlose weight, it is recommended to feed according to your pet’s target ideal weight rather than their current weight. It is also highly recommended to use a small kitchen scale to measure the food in grams, as this allows for a better accuracy of calorie control as opposed to rough volumetric measurements like cups.

Exercise is extremely important in ensuring your pet maintains a healthy weight. Some examples of ways to get your cat to exercise is to encourage play through chasing with a string or laser pointers, or even hide and seek games. Encouraging your cat to chase after a cat teaser is a great way to get them moving. If your cat does not seem especially interested, try catnip spray to stimulate them. You may also want to hide your cat’s food around the house to make them work for their food as they would outdoors, to catch their prey. While our domestic cats seem to be living the dream with a full bowl of food always available, their ancestors and cousins spent up to 80% of their time foraging for food. An interactive feeder such as a cat tree or puzzle will stimulate your cat’s natural hunting instincts and make them work for their food. Cats who are fed through interactive feeders are less likely to eat out of boredom and tend to eat only when they are hungry. Cat trees are also a great option to promote your cat to climb.

Some examples of ways to get your dog to exercise is to bring them on daily walks, hikes, or other activities such as swimming in a clean lake or pool or going to a park to play with other dogs. For indoor exercise, you may want to purchase toys that your dog enjoys playing with such as a ball, a tug or an interactive toy or feeder. An interactive feeder such as a Kong or a puzzle will stimulate your dog’s natural foraging instincts and make them work for their food. Dogs who are fed through interactive feeders are less likely to eat out of boredom and tend to eat only when they are hungry. All these options are recommended for mental stimulation as well!

If your pet is currently overweight or obese, you may want to consider switching them to a weight management formula so that they can lose weight and maintain it.

To summarize, portion control is key in helping an animal lose weight. Increasing your pet's activity level and feeding a diet specifically formulated for weight loss is a good place to start.

  • Freeman, Lisa et al. “WSAVA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines”. Journal Of Small Animal Practice, vol 52, no. 7, 2011, pp. 385-396. Wiley, doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.2011.01079.x. Accessed 13 Nov 2020.
  • Sapowicz, Stephanie A. et al. “Body Condition Scores And Evaluation Of Feeding Habits Of Dogs And Cats At A Low Cost Veterinary Clinic And A General Practice”. The Scientific World Journal, vol 2016, 2016, pp. 1-7. Hindawi Limited, doi:10.1155/2016/1901679.
  • Case et al. Canine And Feline Nutrition. 3rd ed., Mosby, 2011, pp. 313-336.