The draw of a chunky kitty or pudgy pooch is undeniable, but those extra pounds shouldn’t be adored. Additional weight on pets is as unhealthy for them as for you, and the excess poundage will likely shorten your pet’s life. Obesity in pets can lead to a slew of chronic conditions that can seriously harm their health but, with a weight management plan, you can help your pal shed those extra pounds and reduce their risk for certain diseases. 

What health conditions are caused by obesity in pets?

A few extra calories a day can add up quickly, leading to an overweight or obese pet. This extra weight can not only shorten your pet’s lifespan—as evidenced by the Purina “Life Span” study—but also put additional strain on your furry pal’s heart and joints. Common conditions caused or worsened by obesity in pets include:

  • Cardiac disease
  • Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Torn cranial cruciate ligament
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Chronic infections in skin folds
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Certain cancers

The chronic inflammation caused by obesity can create a whole host of serious health conditions, but by recognizing that your pet is obese, and not adorably “chonky,” and taking the appropriate steps, you can increase their comfort level, improve their health, and enjoy more happy years together.

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

Here in the U.S., determining whether a pet is at a healthy weight or not can be challenging, since more than half the American pet population is overweight or obese. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s most recent survey results, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs are overweight or obese. These results mean there’s a good chance your furry pal is fat, not fluffy. 

Simply weighing your pet will not tell you whether they’re at a healthy weight—a body condition score (BCS) is needed. A BCS is the most accurate method for evaluating your pet’s health, and is based on body composition versus the number on the scale. You can use the body condition scale for cats and dogs to assess your pet’s physique. At a healthy weight, your pet’s stomach should tuck in and narrow as it extends toward the hind legs. From above, you should also see your pet’s waist narrow near the hips, creating an hourglass shape. In overweight pets, their abdomens droop and balloon outward, and they may have excess rolls above their neck and shoulders. If your pet tips the scales on the higher end of the BCS chart, a weight management intervention is due.

How can I help my pet lose weight?

Although some medical conditions may make your pet gain weight or struggle to lose excess weight, most obesity is caused by a diet and exercise imbalance. If your pet does not have an endocrine disorder, heart disease, or joint pain that limits their mobility or affects their metabolism, you can easily implement a weight management plan. Follow these simple steps to help your furry pal shed those extra pounds, and keep them off:

  • Schedule a veterinary visit — Your family veterinarian can thoroughly examine your pet to ensure they have no underlying health conditions contributing to the weight gain. They can also help you assess your pet’s BCS, recommend an appropriate diet, and prescribe a prescription weight-loss diet, if needed.
  • Determine your pet’s BCS — Monitoring your pet’s BCS is the best way to help them reach and maintain a healthy weight, rather than following a number on the scale. If you’re unsure how to determine your pet’s score, ask your family veterinarian at your next appointment.
  • Calculate your pet’s daily calorie allotment — Although your pet’s food bag provides feeding guidelines, they often suggest too much food for typical pets. Instead of dishing out an overabundance of kibble, calculate the calories your pet needs using the Pet Nutrition Alliance’s cat and dog calculators.
  • Measure your pet’s food — Once you’ve calculated your pet’s daily calorie requirement, portion out their meals using an actual measuring cup. Ditch the coffee cup or tupperware container scoop, and dole out your pet’s meals accurately with a measuring cup.
  • Choose healthy treats — Many commercial pet treats are loaded with fat and sugar, which leads to a ton of additional calories. Opt for fresh veggies and lean meats as healthy treats, and ensure that no more than 10% of your pet’s daily total calories are allotted for treats.

  • Encourage daily exercise — Many house pets are overweight because they receive little to no exercise. Use puzzle feeders to make your pet work for their meals, enroll them in training classes, join a sporting activity, or play with them at home.

As an animal emergency hospital, the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center would refer you to your family veterinarian to help create your pet’s weight management plan. However, we can handle weight-related emergencies, including conditions caused by obesity (e.g., heart conditions, respiratory issues, joint pain, or diabetic crises). Your family veterinarian may also refer your chubby pal to our internal medicine team for help managing an endocrine disorder, urinary issue, or respiratory disease caused by excessive weight. Whatever the cause, we’re always standing by to help your best friend—give us a call.