Over half the pets in the United States are overweight or obese, but many pet owners are unaware of this concerning problem. Carrying excess weight negatively impacts your pet’s quality of life (QOL) and increases their risk for several health problems. Our Emerald Animal Hospital team wants to help by explaining some truths about pet obesity so you are aware of the problem and can help prevent issues for your pet.

#1: Pet obesity is a common problem

A pet is considered overweight if they are 10% over their ideal weight and obese if they are 20% over their ideal weight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) latest survey, 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats were classified as clinically obese or overweight by their veterinary healthcare professional, yet only 39% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners considered their pet overweight.

#2: Pet obesity is linked to several health complications

Pets at a healthy weight typically live about 2.5 years longer than overweight pets. Problems linked to pet obesity include:

  • Cancer — Evidence to support the relationship between cancer and obesity is increasing, with human medicine currently linking about 13 cancer types to obesity. Research strongly suggests that obese pets are also at greater risk for certain cancers.
  • Arthritis — Arthritis causes the cartilage inside a joint to break down, which changes the underlying bone. Excess weight contributes to the problem by placing additional strain on joints. In addition, fat cells produce inflammatory compounds, resulting in constant low-grade inflammation throughout the body that can lead to arthritic changes.
  • Respiratory complications — Fat can inhibit overweight pets’ lungs and prevent the pet from breathing normally. These pets are also at increased risk for conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and tracheal collapse that significantly inhibit their ability to breathe.
  • Kidney disease — Although the exact mechanism is unknown, obesity results in high blood pressure, which damages the kidneys and causes chronic kidney disease.
  • Diabetes — Obesity leads to insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes mellitus.
  • Heat stroke — Obese pets carry an insulation layer that predisposes them to heat stroke.

#3: Certain health conditions can cause pet obesity

While pet obesity is most commonly caused by decreased activity levels and overfeeding, certain health conditions can cause your pet to gain weight. These include:

  • Hypothyroidism — The thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolic rate and, if the gland is underactive, the pet’s metabolism slows down, resulting in weight gain. Other signs include increased appetite, lethargy, excessive shedding, dull hair coat, and cold intolerance.
  • Hyperadrenocorticism — Also called Cushing’s disease, hyperadrenocorticism is a common endocrine disease that affects middle-aged and senior dogs, and occasionally cats. The condition is usually caused by pituitary or adrenal gland tumors, which elevate serum cortisol levels. Signs include weight gain, increased thirst and urination, lethargy, and a pot-bellied appearance.

If your pet is overweight, they should be assessed by our veterinary team, so we can ensure an underlying health issue isn’t contributing to the problem.

#4: Feeding your pet appropriately is important to prevent obesity

Pets are notorious for begging for food, and saying “No” to those wide, pitiful eyes is difficult. However, food isn’t love, and overfeeding your pet is harmful to their health. Tips to feed your pet appropriately to prevent pet obesity include:

  • Determine how many calories your pet needs — Use a calorie calculator to determine how many calories your pet needs daily.
  • Read your pet’s food bag — Read the label on your pet’s food bag to determine the number of calories in a particular amount.
  • Measure your pet’s food — Use a measuring cup or a kitchen scale to accurately measure your pet’s food, to ensure they receive the correct amount at every meal.
  • Limit treats — Limit the treats you give your pet, and ensure you account for the extra calories in their daily calorie allotment.

#5: Monitoring your pet’s weight is important to prevent obesity

Tracking your pet’s weight status is important to ensure diet adjustments aren’t necessary. Monitoring tips include:

  • Scheduling routine wellness exams — Your pet should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least once a year. During these exams, we assess your pet’s weight status and track their progress. We can also advise you on your pet’s ideal weight.
  • Weighing your pet — As pets age, their metabolism slows, and you should weigh your pet every two to three months to ensure they remain at an ideal weight.
  • Assessing your pet’s body condition score (BCS) — Observe and palpate your pet to assess their BCS to more accurately track their weight status.

#6: Exercising your pet is important to prevent obesity

Pets need daily physical activity to help them keep fit and prevent weight gain. Find fun and exciting ways to make exercise enjoyable for you and your pet. Tips include:

  • New routes — Explore new routes when you take your pet on walks.
  • Join a sport — Participate in competitive sports, such as agility, dock-diving, and flyball, to boost your dog’s workout.
  • Laser pointers — Laser pointers and toys on strings are great methods to keep your cat active.

Your pet has a better chance of living a long, healthy life if you keep them at a healthy weight. Contact our Emerald Animal Hospital team to schedule a wellness exam, so we can ensure your pet is at their ideal weight.