Pet obesity is an epidemic that continues to affect more and more pets. And, obesity is not only a problem in American pets but also a growing issue in pets in developing countries. We explain the causes behind obesity, how the problem affects your pet’s health, and how you can prevent their weight gain and keep your four-legged friend healthy and happy.

What is obesity in pets?

An obese pet simply has too much body fat. In general, pets whose body weight is 10% to 20% higher than ideal are considered overweight, while a pet whose body weight is more than 20% higher than ideal is classified as obese.

What are the dangers of obesity in pets?

Pets who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk for a multitude of serious health concerns, including:

  • Arthritis — Obesity greatly exacerbates arthritis, because the excess weight puts tremendous pressure on stiff, painful joints. As their joint cartilage continues to degrade, obese, arthritic pets move less and less, which results in increased weight gain and joint pain.
  • Diabetes — Obesity leads to insulin resistance and can develop into Type II diabetes.
  • Hyperadrenocorticism — Also known as Cushing’s disease, hyperadrenocorticism can be triggered by excess abdominal fat. As the adrenal gland produces excessive cortisol, the high steroid levels cause weight gain.
  • Hypothyroidism — Dogs are more likely than cats to develop a low thyroid hormone concentration, which negatively impacts metabolism and leads to additional weight gain.
  • Cardiovascular disease — Fat stores that increase inside the body strain the heart and blood vessels, causing heart disease and hypertension.
  • Respiratory issues — Excess fat restricts normal lung and diaphragm expansion, and can worsen a collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). 
  • Skin and urinary tract infections — Obese pets can experience chronic skin infections because skin folds can form, but they cannot maneuver to groom inside the folds. Poor hygiene can also contribute to urinary tract infections.
  • Shortened life expectancy — According to Purina’s life span study, pets who are kept at a lean body weight can live two years longer than their obese counterparts.
  • Some cancers — Obese pets are at a higher risk for developing certain cancers, as fat causes widespread inflammation that can trigger abnormal cell growth.

This list can be the motivation to keep your pet at their ideal weight.

What risk factors predispose pets to obesity?

While any pet, including those as young as 6 months, can become overweight, certain factors increase the propensity to pack on the pounds. Obesity risk factors in pets include:

  • Breed — Dog breeds, including basset hounds, beagles, Labrador retrievers, and dachshunds, and cat breeds including Sphynx, Persians, and shorthairs easily gain weight.
  • Age — Older pets are generally less active, their metabolism is slower, and they are more likely to suffer from endocrine disorders that further slow their metabolism.
  • Diet — An improper diet, whether one that is not nutritionally balanced or consists of too many calories, is a main factor for pet weight gain.
  • Exercise — Lack of enough activity is a major issue for today’s pets, because many owners are too busy to devote enough time to their pet’s exercise needs.
  • Spay or neuter status — Typically, spayed or neutered pets have lower calorie requirements than intact pets. 
  • Health conditions — Certain health conditions, like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and osteoarthritis, can lower a pet’s metabolism or mobility and contribute to weight gain.

How can I help my pet lose weight?

Weight loss is tough, no matter the species. To help your four-legged friend lose weight and to stay lean, try the following:

  • Identify your pet’s body condition score (BCS) — While knowing your pet’s current weight is helpful in getting the number on the scale to move, knowing their body condition score is more useful. A BCS, which is assigned to each pet, regardless of breed or body conformation, is generated by evaluating your pet’s body fat rather than their actual weight.
  • Portion out your pet’s meals — Correctly portioning out your pet’s meals is essential for weight loss. Also, ditch the cup you randomly use to scoop food into your pet’s bowl and use an actual measuring cup. Calculate your pet’s daily caloric needs, divide that number into several meals, and dish up only that amount of food for each meal.
  • Account for treats — When you calculate the amount of food your pet needs each day, include the calories from treats. Also, because calories from snacks add up quickly, opt for low-calorie, healthy options, like fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
  • Dedicate time to exercise — Taking the time to be active with your four-legged friend every day can be challenging, but is crucial for their health and happiness. Set aside two or three chunks of time for activities with your pet, such as playing with a favorite toy, training new tricks, or engaging in a sport.
  • Schedule regular wellness visits — By staying on top of your pet’s wellness care, you can monitor their weight, they can be screened for metabolic disorders, and you and your veterinarian can discuss proper nutrition and, if necessary, formulate a safe weight loss program.

Your pet’s weight loss should be gradual—ideally, 1% to 2% of body weight per week—but if the number on the scale is not changing, your pet may have an underlying health issue. Schedule an appointment with our Lebanon Animal Hospital team, so we can determine the reason behind your furry pal’s weight loss challenges and put them on the path to leanness, and good health.