Is your pet tipping the scale? What you need to know about pet obesity!

  By: Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe, DVM, PhD, Dip ECVCN
        Assistant Professor in Clinical Nutrition
        Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition
        Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

October 12, 2016

Obesity is the number one nutritional problem in pets. According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 58% of cats and 54% of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015.

By taking steps to manage and prevent obesity in our pets, we can decrease the risk of many health complications such as: diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, urinary problems, osteoarthritis, skin problems, and cancer. Keeping our pets at an ideal weight can ensure our pets live a good quality of life.

Weight gain and increased body fat occurs when a pet eats more than it needs to.

Only 3% of obese pets are because of animal-specific factors, such as breed, age, gender, being spayed/neutered; while 97% are caused by human-specific factors such as the amount fed to the pet, physical activity provided to the pet, owner attitudes, and household characteristics.

Proper diet and lifestyle choices for our pets are important to preventing an overweight pet and weight-related health consequences. These choices will help ensure you'll have plenty of years to hug, love, and snuggle with, your four-legged friend.

What can you do to keep your pet in good shape?

1. Fat, fluffy, or just big-boned?

During your pet's annual check-up, your veterinary healthcare team will weigh your dog or cat and assess his or her body condition using standardized scoring charts. It's important to discuss your pet's current weight with your veterinary healthcare team.

As a pet owner, it's important to keep an eye on your pet's weight throughout the year. A great trick that is easy to do at home is to feel their ribs. If a pet's ribs feel like the top of the fingers on a flat hand when the palm is facing down, the pet is fairly close to an ideal body condition. If it feels more like the palm of a flat hand, the pet could be overweight and you should contact your veterinary healthcare team.

2. Feeding habits

Pet food often gets the blame of the obesity epidemic where claims are made that tasty, energy-dense foods put pets at risk for weight gain. However! Overfeeding is the most important concern. Dogs and cats fed homemade food, table scraps, and/or treats are at a higher risk of becoming obese. Free-choice feeding should be avoided. Instead, dogs and cats should be given multiple small meals.

Most owners use a measuring cup to measure their pet's food. This is quick and convenient, but has also been shown to be imprecise and inaccurate. Weighing your pet's food with a gram scale is highly recommended to maintain a healthy body condition. Weight loss can only be achieved with a veterinary weight reduction diet. Simply reducing the amount of the pet's current food (even light diets) may result in your pet not getting all the nutrients they need.

3. Is your pet getting enough exercise?

Walk your dog everyday; start slowly with short activity periods and gradually increase the exercise time. Few dogs will naturally walk quickly enough to cause their heart rate to increase enough for weight loss. Walk briskly or speed walk with your dog, allowing him or her to stop to sniff only once in a while.

Outdoor cats get plenty of exercise by hunting, playing, and exploring. Exercising overweight indoor cats may seem more challenging. Homemade or pet shop toys help to encourage your cat to get moving. Shine a flashlight on the floor and walls or let your cat play in a box or paper bag. Hide a few kibbles of your cat's food in different places around the house, bringing out the "hunter" in your cat. For more activity ideas, check out this page.

If you are concerned about your pet's weight, visit your veterinary healthcare team for a nutritional assessment and to design an appropriate weight loss plan.