Obesity in Pets - Why Does It Matter?
The number of pudgy pooches and chubby cats is growing. It's estimated
that over half of the nation's pets are either overweight or obese. Many
pets love to eat, and humans love to feed them, but
obesity in pets can
result in serious health problems. These include joint problems, heart
and respiratory problems, among others. That's why it's so important to
keep our pets at a healthy weight.
Some of the common causes of obesity in dogs and cats include:
- Too much food, or food that's too readily accessible. Simply
scooping out food with a dish may result in more food than your pet
needs. Even leaving food out, always available for snacking, can
encourage pets to eat more than they should.
- Multiple pets in a household may result in one pet eating a
portion of another pet's meals.
- Too many treats. People enjoy giving their pets a treat, and
pets enjoy them just as much. Sneaking a morsel off a plate to
a pet might not seem like much ... but doing it several times
a meal, several times a day, adds up fast - and it's even worse
when there are other people in the family who do the same thing.
- Insufficient exercise. Exercise helps pets burn more calories.
In our busy world, trying to balance the demands of work and home,
sometimes we don't walk our dogs or play with our cats often
- Breed - some breeds of dogs seem to be more prone to weight
gain. Examples include labrador retrievers and beagles.
- Stress, medication, or illness. Any of these can cause weight
gain in pets.
There are things we can do to help our pets maintain a healthy
weight. The excess weight isn't just a bigger risk for health problems -
it can impact a pet's quality of life, too. The extra weight can make
it harder for them to breathe; overheat more easily; and tire more
easily too. Joint pain is big issue with obesity, so moving around
can be uncomfortable or even painful.
Prevention of obesity is easier, but even if a pet is already
overweight there are things we can do to help return them to better
- Use feeding guides as a recommendation only. Pet food packages will
often provide a chart which will state how much a pet should be fed
based on his weight. However, this is only a guide; how much a pet
needs to eat really depends on it's age, activity level, size, and
The general rule of thumb is that pets who are at a healthy
weight should have a slight fat covering over their ribs and hips,
but their bones are easily felt with a bit of pressure. Pets should
have a definite waist and a 'tummy tuck' when looking at them from
- Don't leave food out all day long. Although some pets will simply
stop eating if they're satisfied, there are many who will happily
chow down on whatever's on offer, any time it's available.
- Feed a quality, nutritious diet suitable for the species (dogs
need to eat differently than cats) and for the individual pet.
Some pets have food allergies, for example, and individual pets
may do better on one diet over another. If your pet is otherwise
healthy, it's okay to try different types of food. A change in diet
for sick pets should always first be discussed with a veterinarian.
- Exercise your pet more. Dogs are easier to exercise than cats.
Take them out for an extra walk, or stay out for a few minutes longer.
Or play with them in the yard for a few minutes every day. With cats,
purchase some interactive toys to encourage play ... or get a tall
cat tree with various platforms, cubby holes, and dangling toys
that encourage them to jump, stretch, pounce, or bat things around.
Start slowly if your pet isn't accustomed to exercise. It is
a good idea to get the all-clear from your vet first if your pet
has been a couch potato for a long time. Exercise isn't just good
for our pets' bodies; it's also good for their mental health.
- Older pets may
benefit from a change in diet. There are some high-quality pet foods formulated especially
for senior pets, which include joint supplements like glucosamine or MSM,
and beneficial oils like salmon oil. Not every pet will respond (or may
need additional supplementation - ask your vet), but if they do, it makes
moving around easier and thus getting adequate exercise is easier too.
- Any sudden or dramatic change in weight, whether it's a loss or a
gain, should be checked by your vet. It could be a sign of an underlying
Many vets have stated that people don't appear to realize when their
pets are fat. It's a difficult conversation to have because people are
often shocked, upset, or in denial that anything is wrong. Obesity in
pets is preventable ... it's also fixable (in otherwise healthy pets) ...
and it's well worth the effort to ensure our furry companions have the
longest, healthiest, and happiest lives that they can.