Could your pet be an Olympian? They may win the gold for Olympic events such as the 100-meter couch waddle, competitive snacking, and synchronized napping. However, if your dog or cat is more likely to win a snore-a-thon than a marathon, you need to think about pet obesity’s serious issues. Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States, with more than 50% of pets being considered overweight or obese. Our Companion Veterinary Clinic team believes all pets are adorable no matter their size, but we prioritize pet health and want to stop the obesity epidemic, helping patients live long, healthy lives. Learn about pet obesity’s common causes, the health risks overweight pets face, and how to evaluate your furry pal’s body condition and help them shed extra pounds. 

Beyond big-boned: Pet obesity causes 

So, how did Fluffy go from fetching Frisbees to fetching second helpings? Your pet may have put on weight for one or more of these reasons:

  • Overfeeding — As much as you love those twinkling eyes begging for a taste of your dinner, sharing too much food with your pet can add to their bulk. They’ve mastered the art of making us feel guilty, haven’t they?
  • Inadequate exercise — Sure, Fluffy’s five-minute energy burst, attacking the laser pointer is cute, but this activity is not enough to keep off the extra pounds.
  • Aging — Like that of people, pets’ metabolism slows as they age. Their middle-aged spread might not result from having too many beers, but the principle is the same.
  • Medical conditions — Sometimes, an underlying medical issue (e.g., hypothyroidism) causes obesity. If your pet is gaining weight despite a good diet and adequate exercise, consult our Companion Veterinary Clinic team.

Chubby cuteness consequences: Pet obesity health risks

Obesity is a serious problem that can worsen many health issues or increase your pet’s risk for developing certain conditions. If your pet is overweight or obese, they are more likely to develop:

  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Endocrine disease (e.g., diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism)
  • Skin infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Some cancers

Extra pounds can prevent a pet from enjoying activities they once loved, such as chasing squirrels or receiving belly rubs because let’s be honest, their belly is harder to find, which negatively impacts their quality of life (QOL). In addition to increasing their risk for myriad health problems, obesity can decrease your pet’s life span compared with their leaner counterparts.

More than a number: Determining your pet’s body condition score

Pets’ bodies vary in size and structure, so their weight does not provide enough information to determine if the number on the scale is healthy. A body condition score (BCS), similar to body mass index (BMI) for people, is a tool our Companion Veterinary Clinic team uses to evaluate your pet’s body fat. Assessing your pet’s BCS provides a comprehensive assessment of their weight. You can determine your pet’s BCS at home by placing them in a standing position and evaluating the following three key body areas:

  • Ribs — You should be able to easily palpate a healthy pet’s ribs under only a light fat covering. 
  • Waistline — When viewed from above, your pet should have an obvious waistline between their last rib and their hips.
  • Profile — Your pet’s side profile should have an inverted curve from their rib cage to their abdomen. 

The most common BCS scales range from one to nine, with a score of one indicating that a pet is extremely emaciated, and a BCS of nine indicating that a pet is extremely obese. An ideal BCS is four to five.

Paw-sitive changes: Helping your pet shed the extra pounds

If your pet’s BCS indicates they are overweight, make some paw-sitive changes to improve their health. The first step is to team up with your Companion Veterinary Clinic veterinarian. Just as a coach helps an Olympian reach their athletic goals, a veterinary professional supports a pet’s weight-loss journey. If your pet is overweight, your veterinarian can devise a weight-loss strategy,  based on your pet’s age, health, and specific needs, to help your furry pal safely lose the excess pounds. In addition to complying with your veterinarian’s guidance to transform your pet into a lean, mean, toy-chasing machine, follow these pet weight-loss tips:

  • Calculate your pet’s energy requirements — Use a calorie calculator to determine the number of calories your pet needs each day. To calculate your pet’s exact meal portion size, read their food bag label. 
  • Measure your pet’s food — Once you’ve calculated your pet’s daily calorie requirement, use a measuring cup to portion out their meals accurately.
  • Limit treats — Treats are fine on occasion, but you should limit them. Consider healthy options, such as baby carrots, broccoli, and snap peas, and include treats’ calories in your pet’s daily calorie count. 
  • Get moving — Many pets are overweight because they receive little to no exercise. Most pets need at least 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity twice per day. Incorporate movement in your pet’s routine by replacing their food bowl with a food-dispensing toy or exploring new activities such as swimming, underwater treadmill walking, or nose work. If your pet isn’t used to exercise, gradually increase their activity level over several weeks. 

Managing your pet’s weight is a lifelong responsibility, but your furry pal’s health and QOL are worth doing so. By maintaining your pet at an appropriate weight, you help ensure they are happy, healthy, and ready to achieve their Olympic dreams. To keep your furry pal in tip-top shape, contact our Companion Veterinary Clinic team to schedule a wellness exam that includes a weight and body condition assessment.