Understanding and Preventing Pet Obesity

Obesity doesn't only affect humans, but our beloved pets, too!

Obesity doesn't only affect humans. In North America, our pets are putting on the pounds and developing weight-related medical conditions that were virtually nonexistent 20 years ago. Our pets are getting osteoarthritis, diabetes, pancreatitis, anterior cruciate ligament injuries and heart and respiratory diseases. Obesity is one of the fastest-growing health problems in our canine and feline friends. A study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 44% of American dogs, or roughly 33 million, are overweight or obese.

Most owners believe a round, plump pet is healthier than a thin one. Actually, an animal is the right weight if you can feel the ribs when you touch his sides. The skin should slip easily, and there shouldn’t be a big wad of skin between the fur and the ribs. In addition, your pet should have a waist. He shouldn’t look like wrapped candy – skinny on both ends and round in the middle.

Obesity can be as big a health concern for your pet as it is for yourself, since it can lead to a long list of serious health problems. The more excess weight your dog or cat has to carry, the more stress is put on their body. If you think your dog or cat may be overweight, or you have a breed which may be more prone to obesity, check with your veterinarian to find out the best nutritional and dietary requirements for your pet.

It's important to make sure that you're aware of the health problems that are caused by obesity. Remember, as with many problems and illnesses, it’s far easier to prevent the problems than to resolve them. In some cases the problem becomes chronic and must be treated for the remainder of the animal’s life. There are several contributing factors to pet obesity, not simply overfeeding your pet. Here are a some other possible factors to consider:

  • Food type
  • Food availability (free feed vs. scheduled feedings)
  • Regular activity level
  • Altered (is the dog spayed or neutered)
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Social environment (stress)
  • Physical Environment (temperature)
  • Medications
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Commercial food is one of the major causes of pet obesity. Veterinarians do not recommend or endorse most commercial dog foods as they are predominantly corn-based, and a dog’s digestive system is not designed for corn. What happens is that the calories turn into fat because they are digested so poorly. Even worse is the fact that your dog remains hungry because he is not getting the nutrients he needs. Unfortunately, owners will try to relieve the dog's hunger by giving him or her "a little extra"; which only hastens obesity. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best food for your pet and in most cases can sell the product to you directly.

One of the biggest contributors to pet obesity is not just the quality of the food, but the amount fed. Owners love the cute little dishes and fancy feeding systems, but forget that pets should have controlled portions in order to stay healthy. Although most cats like to graze all day, it is still possible to control their "daily" portions. Ask your veterinarian what the correct amount of food is for your cat or dog. He will be able to tell you exactly what amount to feed and how often, based on your pet's breed, age, and current weight.

Another way to help prevent obesity would be to reduce regular treats; such as breaking up one treat into a few small pieces instead of feeding your pet a few regular sized treats. This will help reduce the number of calories that your pet consumes. You should also eliminate table scraps from your dog's diet. You may think the table's leftovers are a treat, but they are actually doing more harm than good.


Two factors that may also affect a pet's weight are his activity level and whether or not they have been spayed or neutered. It is important to note that a pet who has been spayed or neutered may be less active than before their change. Keeping this in mind, you need to be patient but persistent when trying to stimulate their energy level.

Whether your pet spends his days indoors or outdoors, exercise is extremely important. Even if you are gone all day, a simple daily walk for your dog will help keep him healthy, burn excess calories and energy, and will also be a good opportunity for you to bond with your pet and get some excercise. Exercising will also strengthen your dog's respiratory and circulatory systems, keep muscles toned and joints flexible, keep your dog's mind active and aid in overall digestion.

Exercise for your cat is just as important. Although you wouldn't walk a cat like you would a dog, you still need to provide the means for them to exercise and entertain themselves daily. You can exercise your cat by providing a climbing/scratching post, as well as playful toys for them to chase from room to room.


So many things influence the health of your pet, such as age, social environment and medications for existing health conditions. As pets age, their energy level drops and their physical comfort levels diminish, so keeping them healthy becomes more of a challenge. As your pet ages their dietary needs also change and their physical limitations will influence exercise and emotional well-being; all of which will affect their weight. Your veterinarian will be able to help you make the necessary adjustments that will best suit your pet.


Because obesity can sometimes be caused by other health problems, you'll want to make sure that your dog or cat has a clean bill of health. Schedule annual checkups, and pay attention to changes such as increased appetite or weight gain. Always consult your veterinarian when you notice changes.

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