Is my pet overweight?

The dangers of pets being overweight include increased risk of diabetes, arthritis, and Cardiovascular disease, and unfortunately, statistics show that a large percentage of dogs and cats in the UK are overweight or obese. 

But why? What is it that’s contributing to our pets being an unhealthy weight? 

Read on to discover why so many pets are overweight, the major health risks of obesity, how you can determine if your pet’s weight is appropriate, and how we can fix it. 

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

Most vets use a system called Body Condition Scoring to give an idea if your pet is an appropriate weight. While exact calculations can absolutely be done, evaluating BCS is a quick and easy way to decide whether or not there can be an improvement in your pet’s weight. 

BCS systems are typically done on a scale of 1-5 or 1-9. 1 means your pet is extremely thin, whereas 9 would indicate obesity. On the 1-5 scale, 3 is “ideal”, and on the 1-9 scale, 5 is “ideal”. That being said, I personally prefer to keep my patients SLIGHTLY under 3/5 or 5/9 for good health, especially large breed dogs.

Looking at your pet, you should be able to see a defined waistline when looking down over the top of your animal, and a nice upward tuck of the abdomen when looking from the side. When feeding your pet, you should easily be able to feel their ribs and tail base without pushing inwards, with a thin layer of fat over these structures. 

Hills Pet Nutrition and Nestle-Purina Pet Care have excellent resources for people that show pictures of body condition scoring charts in more detail. You can check out these charts here:

Why are so many dogs and cats overweight?

Often pet owners don’t realize that dogs and cats have different styles of metabolism than people. Their bodies process things in different ways and at different speeds. For example, feeding your dog a piece of cheese may seem insignificant, but depending on the size of your dog that amount of fat could be approximately equal to us eating three large cheeseburgers from Mcdonald’s. Treats are a common culprit. Vets are happy for you to give your dog treats, but we have to remember to keep the quantity small and to decrease their regular food amount to reflect the extra calories from the treats (while still keeping a balanced diet). 

Common problems:

  • Feeding too much food. 
  • Feeding food that is inappropriate for the pet’s life stage or lifestyle. 
  • Feeding too many treats, including human food. 
  • Not enough exercise/activity. 
  • Undiagnosed underlying diseases.

The dangers of your pet being overweight 

Vets hear a lot of pet owners making comments about their overweight pets being “cute” or “well-loved”.  We also hear that being overweight “isn’t a big deal” or they’ve “always been like that”. While we 100% know and love that pet owners want the best for their pets, we have to be clear that being overweight is dangerous for your pet’s health. 

Here are some conditions that pets are at increased risk of by being overweight:

  • Arthritis, joint pain/inflammation
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Diabetes 
  • Respiratory difficulty/exercise intolerance

What can I do if my pet is overweight?

Don’t fret, there are definitely things you can do to help improve your pet’s weight to keep them happy and healthy longer. Usually, vets recommend weight loss be done slowly and under veterinary direction. Here are some tips for safe weight management:

  • Ensure you are feeding a diet appropriate for your pet’s life stage.
    • For example, diets approved for “ALL LIFE STAGES” have to contain enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates for growing puppies and pregnant/nursing females. This typically is TOO much for average adult dogs, meaning adult dogs eating these types of diets may be overweight.
  • Be aware of the amount of food and treats you are feeding every day.
    • Do you know how many calories your pet is consuming? This can surprise owners.
  • Talk to a vet about if a “WEIGHT MANAGEMENT” diet is right for your pet.
    • Sometimes owners just need to feed a bit less food or give fewer treats. But there are some pets that benefit from either an over-the-counter or prescription weight management diet. 
  • Talk to a vet to discuss the potential for any underlying diseases that may contribute to weight issues.
    • Female large-breed dogs are a common demographic that may have reduced thyroid hormone production contributing to weight gain, just like some human women.
  • Regular exercise for pets is just as important as it is for us.

Top tip:

Your pets rely on you to help keep them at a healthy weight, leading to a happy and long life!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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