PET OBESITY: The Truth About Fat Cats and Dogs

In honor of National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, we thought we’d spend a little time talking with you about fat cats and dogs. A growing problem in America, overweight pets are often forced to endure painful and even life-threatening conditions. Awareness is the first step in avoiding pet obesity and, if you already have an overweight cat or dog, conversations like this one can help you find solutions for healthy weight loss.

How to Tell When a Pet is Overweight

We must admit that we sometimes appreciate a little pudgy pooch or roly-poly kitty. Some owners may also think that a fuzzy buddy looks great with a few extra pounds and feeding may be done without regard to calories. In many instances, this is how a lifetime weight struggle begins for a cat or a dog. It doesn’t help your pet for us to sugarcoat the issue, so please know that understanding and targeting the optimal weight for your pet can literally mean the difference between a better quality of life or a slow and agonizing death.

To tell if your pet is overweight, consider these 4 telltale signs:

  1. You have difficulty feeling your pet’s ribs without pressing.
  2. Your furball’s back is flat and quite broad.
  3. Your pet has a saggy tummy that you can literally grab with your palm.
  4. You cannot see a visible difference between your pet’s midsection and rear (in other words, your pet doesn’t appear to have a waist).

What is Pet Obesity?

There is no standard rule for when a pet is considered to be obese versus merely being overweight. Some pet care professionals maintain that a cat or dog is overweight when their body weight exceeds 15% of their optimal weight and obesity is determined when weight exceeds 30% of the animal’s optimal weight. Whether fat cats and dogs are overweight or qualify as being obese, health threats abound making excess weight a serious issue and one that pet owners should work to avoid or correct.

Half of America’s Cats and Dogs Are Overweight

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded by esteemed veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, estimates that, in America, as many as 57.9% of cats are overweight and 28.1% are actually obese. While the ASPCA maintains that cats are less likely to be obese than dogs, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention believes that approximately 52.7% of dogs are overweight and 17.6% are classified as obese. Both organizations agree that pet obesity carries serious health repercussions, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver problems
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Pancreatitis
  • Immunity problems (primarily in dogs)

An overweight pet who has developed one of the health issues mentioned above may also be harder to treat due to the pounds they’ve gained. For example, according to veterinary oncologist, Dr. Christine Swanson, treating an obese pet for cancer and getting the correct chemotherapy dosage for their weight can be challenging. It should further be noted that pet obesity not only affects the quality of a cat or a dog’s life, but can also decrease the animal’s lifespan by up to 2.5 years.

What Causes Pet Obesity

Pet obesity can be caused by a number of factors. First, it should be noted that a hormonal imbalance may be to blame if your animal is overweight or obese. A full medical exam by a qualified veterinarian would be needed in order to properly assess this.

Certain animals are also more prone to obesity than others. For example, older dogs tend to be less active than they once were and, therefore, sometimes gain weight as they age. Pet specialists have also noted that breeds like pugs and labrador retrievers may be more susceptible to weight gain than other pets.

Other causes of pet obesity include:

  • Overfeeding
  • Feeding human food
  • Rewarding a pet with excessive or unhealthy treats
  • A lack of adequate exercise

How to Treat Pet Obesity

Reversing pet obesity and helping your cat or dog live a healthier lifestyle should begin with a visit to your veterinarian. While there are adjustments that you can make on your own, your vet is a key member of your pet care team and should have input with regard to your companion’s fitness goals from the very beginning. Your vet will also be able to test your pet’s hormone levels and conduct an examination to identify any other underlying issues which may have contributed to the animal’s excessive weight gain.

If it is determined that your pet is simply overweight due to a poor lifestyle, your veterinarian will help you develop a specialized diet tailored specifically for your cat or dog. It will be very important that you follow this diet as closely as possible. Other family members and pet sitters should also be advised on following strict instructions for your pet’s new lifestyle.

Key lifestyle changes will also have to be made to help your pet target and maintain a healthy weight. For example, daily exercise and dog walking is mandatory in order to help your pet shed those extra pounds. If your cat or dog is used to nibbling on human food, your vet will likely recommend that you stop this immediately. In fact, most experts agree that a dieting pet shouldn’t even be in the same room with his human family during meal times.

If there are multiple pets in the household, the dieting pet should be fed separately and never allowed access to other pet food during this time. Fat dogs and cats targeting a healthier weight should be fed from a dedicated feeding bowl and should be given controlled portions at the same times every day. Several small meals throughout the day may be recommended by your veterinarian, but between meal snacking should never be allowed. In fact, refrain from feeding ordinary pet treats until the animal’s weight and diet are both under control.

Better Pet Health Begins Today

On this National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, we hope that you take some time to seriously assess your cat or dog’s health in light of what you now know about the dangers of being overweight. If your companion needs to lose a few pounds, commit to doing everything that you can to help him burn calories and acquire new eating habits. Remember that a visit to the veterinarian is the best place to start your pet’s weight loss journey and that consistency on your part is the most important factor in helping your fur buddy slim down to a desirable size.

Your Thoughts on Pet Obesity

Do you have a fat dog or cat? What questions do you have about pet obesity? Do you have any success stories or tips that you’d like to share with our readers? Your input just may save a pet’s life, so please feel free to have your say in the comments section now.