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Obesity in Pets: A Heavy Problem


13 December 2018



Article written in collaboration with Asista Foundation : John Agionicolaitis, Animal Health Technician & Dominique Plante, DMV – Veterinarian, General & Emergency Medicine.

According to scientific literature, 1 in 3 pets will be either overweight or obese. Obesity is the most common preventable disease seen among pets. As pet parents, we want the best for our four-legged children. Read on for information, tips on prevention, and what you can do at home.

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is a build-up of excess body fat contributing to the overall weight. Pets are considered overweight when they weigh 10–20% above their ideal body weight. They’re considered obese when they weigh 20% or more above their ideal body weight.

What Are the Risks Associated with Obesity?

According to recent studies, obesity can negatively impact a pet’s overall health and lifespan.

The surplus weight can be a contributing risk factor to:

  • cancers of all types, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and hypertension,
  • osteoarthritis and a faster degeneration of affected joints,
  • urinary bladder stones and urinary infections,
  • anesthetic complications following general anesthesia as overweight pets are less heat tolerant, weakening their body,
  • skin infections.

How Do I Know if My Pet Is Obese and How Do I Assess?

 The very first step in dealing with an overweight or obese pet is to recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem. In today’s world, media often portrays pets as consistently too heavy, which makes it challenging to understand what normal looks like. Your veterinarian can assist with an assessment if you are unsure.

Rib coverage is not only an important indicator to help you identify if your pet is overweight, but it’s also easy for you to check at home, on your own. Hold your palm down and feel your knuckles with the flats of the fingers on the opposite hand: this is what your pet’s ribs should feel like just behind the shoulder blades. It’s also a good method for measuring weight loss progress between formal weigh-ins.

Your veterinary health care team will provide an estimated ideal body weight to use as a target, but it is important that they also do regular body condition assessments to ensure progress is being made toward normal body weight and body condition. Most veterinary clinics use a body condition scoring system on a scale of either 1–5 (3 is normal) or 1–9 (5 is normal).

Body Condition Score

What Are Tips I Can Follow for My Pet to Lose Weight?

 Once you’ve identified that your dog or cat is overweight or obese, it is important to come up with an action plan.

An action plan can include but is not limited to:

  • Adjusting food portions and measuring everything your pet eats.
  • Rethinking the treats you feed.
  • Increasing exercise, walks, and playtime.

Feeling uninspired? Another innovative way of helping your pet lose weight is to introduce it to an interactive feeder that can be complimentary to your current action plan.

What Happens When We Reach Our Weight Loss Goal?

Once an ideal body weight and condition has been achieved, it is important to maintain it. Once again, your veterinary health care team can help you find the appropriate tools.

Portion control is critical at this stage to prevent regaining weight. After so much hard work, a relapse in obesity would be unfortunate. Yo-yo weight loss and gain is no healthier for dogs than for humans. The benefits of normalizing body weight and condition make the effort well worth it! If you are worried about anything regarding your pet’s health, your veterinarian should be your first destination in answering any medical questions!


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