Pets and Obesity: The Silent Epidemic Affecting Your Pets

By Jen Moore | Oct 04, 2019

Vincent the Dachshund made the news when he was surrendered this year to a shelter in Houston, Texas. At seven years old, he weighed 38 pounds- double the weight of a healthy dog of his breed. With the extra weight he carried, Vincent was at risk of developing metabolic disorders like diabetes mellitus and severe spinal damage. Fortunately, he was adopted by a caring individual who worked closely with a veterinarian to help Vincent lose weight and become healthier.

While Vincent is an extreme case of obesity, many American pets are overweight or obese. In a 2014 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogswere found to be overweight or obese.

Before that, a 2011 study examined weight gain in dogs, cats, primates, and rodents over approximately three decades.  The researchers found that both dogs and cats have steadily increased in body weight over time.

The growing occurrence of overweight pets has mirrored the obesity epidemic among Americans. According to the National Institutes of Health, 68.8% of American adults are overweight or obese. One in twenty individuals is considered to be extremely obese.


The growing occurrence of overweight pets has mirrored the obesity epidemic among Americans.


These statistics indicate that over half of Americans are at risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, orthopedic issues, and some types of cancer.

Much like people, overweight cats and dogs are at greater risk for orthopedic problems like osteoarthritis, spinal injury, diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, and fatty liver disease.  These conditions are life-threatening for your pet and can be costly to treat. 


What Causes Overweight Pets?


Just like us, pets can gain weight when they don’t get enough exercise and eat too much food. However, some diseases such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease in dogs can cause sudden weight gain. It is important to see your veterinarian and rule out any underlying disease if your pet experiences any sudden weight gain or loss. 


What Should You Do If Your Pet is Overweight?


There are several strategies you can adopt to help your pet lose weight.

Feed a quality pet food and measure out portions.

Feed your pet a complete and balanced food that is appropriate for their breed, size, and stage of life. For example, senior dogs should be given food formulated for older dogs, whereas puppies and kittens should be given food appropriate for young, growing animals. Never give cats or kittens food that is meant for dogs. This could lead to life threatening deficiencies.  

A balanced and complete diet contains adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and vitamins and minerals.  To determine if a diet is balanced, look for the Association of American Feed Officials (AAFCO) certification on food bags. Make sure the certification includes the statement that the food has undergone feeding trials, not just laboratory analysis.  Many quality pet foods have this certification and provide guidelines for feeding your pet based on their weight.

Buy a measuring cup and accurately measure the amount of food your pet is getting. Pets that are free-fed (food is out all the time) may be at higher risk for obesity.

Any nutritional plan for your pet should include a comprehensive physical examination by a veterinarian to ensure all of your pets needs are being met. If you are unsure how much you should be feeding, consult your veterinarian who will help you determine how much daily food your pet should have. Nutritional requirements vary depending on type of pet and breed, and it is important that you feed your pet appropriately.  Make sure your pet always has access to plenty of clean, fresh water as well.

Do not feed “people” food.

Those sad eyes around the dinner table can be hard to resist, but your pet doesn’t need snacks from your plate. In fact, fatty foods in the form of table scraps increase the risk of developing pancreatitis in addition to causing weight gain. Rather, give treats sparingly that are made for dogs or cats.  Pets have been found to be higher risk for obesity when treats or table scraps comprised 10% or more of their diets.

Exercise daily.

Daily exercise with your pet can improve your mood and physical fitness as well as your pet’s. For dogs, you can take them on regular walks. For cats, consistent play with toys and offering climbing options such as shelves and cat trees improve their physical fitness.

Begin any exercise program gradually and allow for recovery time. Just like you, your dog can become sore or injured from exercise. Dogs that are not used to exercising need to be introduced gradually to physical activity to minimize the risk of orthopedic injury. Do not walk your dog on overly hot or cold days. Dogs can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and injuries from cold. Make sure you don’t walk your dog on hot pavement. If you can’t hold your hand on the pavement comfortably for at least 30 seconds, then your dog should not be walking on it. Dogs can suffer severe burns on their footpads from hot pavement.

Consult your veterinarian

Your veterinarian can advise you on the proper diet and portions for your pet. Before starting any weight loss program, see your veterinarian to ensure there are no health concerns for your pet.

The positive effect of the bond between people and their pets is well documented. By keeping your pet at an optimal weight, you can help your dog or cat live a long, healthy life. You can also experience the benefits of better health when you and your pet exercise together regularly. 

Jen Moore

DS 2020 Editor