Is your pet overweight?

By Nicole Arthur

October is National Pet Wellness Month, a time to focus on pet health and its importance all year long. Just as weight is an undeniable factor in human health, maintaining a healthy weight for your dog or cat is crucial to keeping them around as long as possible.

Obesity is a serious problem in both cats and dogs. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, 25–30% of dogs and 30-35% of cats are obese, with an even higher percentage of older pets struggling with obesity. Obese cats and dogs are at a higher risk for a myriad of diseases, and a shortened lifespan.

If you’re wondering “is my dog overweight?” or “is my cat obese?” you’re off to a good start - identifying the problem is the first step. By determining if your dog or cat is overweight or obese, developing a plan of action to help them lose weight, then creating an environment that ensures they maintain their healthy weight, you’re setting them off on a path to a longer and healthier life.

Because dogs and cats do not operate the same way, we’ll tackle identifying and solving dog and cat obesity separately.

Obesity in dogs

While the VCA statistics suggest that cats are more likely to be overweight than dogs, certain canine breeds can be prone to obesity as well. A chubby pug or bulldog is a common sight, but surprisingly, Labrador Retrievers are one of the breeds most likely to be overweight, due to their almost insatiable appetite. Without a healthy diet and proper exercise, any dog can develop weight problems, but it’s never too late to learn how to help your dog lose weight.

Identifying if your dog is overweight or obese

If you’re wondering “is my dog fat?” there are simple methods to determine if they could stand to lose a few pounds. According to the AKC, you can observe your dog’s shape from above, and if their bodies have a “rotund or oval shape,” instead of “a defined waist toward the rear and a straight build down the sides” they’re likely carrying extra weight that could lead to serious health problems down the road. You should also be able to feel their ribs easily through their fur, and their bellies should not sag or bulge when observed from the side.

For a visual idea of a healthy vs. an unhealthy dog body shape, you can reference a body condition score chart, which uses a scale of either 1 to 5 or 1 to 9 to give pet owners an idea of where their pet’s weight falls, from emaciated to obese. You can compare your dog’s body to the Dog Body Condition Scale Chart on the APOP [Association for the Pet Obesity Prevention] website. According to the Body Condition Score chart for dogs, an ideal body shape is similar to the dog at 5 of 9 on the scale, with no bulging at the belly and a tucked in waist.

Even though we often see overweight pugs, bulldogs, and other breeds as adorably chubby, getting your dog’s weight managed is essential, as obese dogs are more likely to develop “cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis and a faster degeneration of affected joints,” according to VCA hospitals.

Of course, the only foolproof way to determine obesity in your dog is to have them evaluated by their veterinarian, so if you think your dog is overweight, you should schedule a visit with your vet to learn if obesity or any other health conditions are a concern.

How to help your obese dog lose weight

If your dog is overweight or inching towards obesity, it’s time to take action. Alongside regular vet visits, vaccinating, preventing fleas and ticks, and keeping the contact details registered to your dog’s microchip up to date, prioritizing a healthy eating and exercise plan is essential to their health and well-being.

Common sense suggests that burning more calories through exercise would help an obese dog lose weight. However, the type of exercise you should integrate into your dog’s health regimen is highly dependent on their breed. While a Labrador Retriever might love a seemingly endless game of fetch or a 3-mile run, brachycephalic (or flat-faced) dogs, like pugs and bulldogs, require a little more creativity. Their short snouts compromise their breathing ability, so you’ll want to stick to short, slow walks and indoor games to get your dog’s heart pumping without over-straining them. If your dog is older or very overweight, consult with a vet before adding additional exercise to your dog’s routine.

Exercising with your dog can improve their health (and yours too!). However, it’s important to be sure your dog is microchipped and that the contact information registered to their microchip is up to date before hitting the great outdoors. If your dog goes missing and then is found, we’ll need to know how and where to reach you.

Should I buy special dog food for weight loss?

Not necessarily. Your veterinarian may recommend a particular brand or type of food geared towards increasing your dog’s metabolism, but in many instances your vet will simply suggest slowly reducing calories and feeding your dog smaller but more frequent meals each day, while adding more exercise. With longer walks or more play time, limiting treats, and feeding your dog a proportional amount of high-quality food relative to their activity level, your dog should reach their ideal weight in 6-8 months, but don’t let your healthy new routine fall to the wayside once they’ve lost weight.

If you’re short on time, you can consider a dog walking service like Did you know our Lifetime Protection Membership comes with a $30 Rover discount? Purchase a Lifetime Protection Membership today and save on dog walking services to help keep your pup healthy for years to come.

Obesity in cats

There’s a reason it’s called a “cat nap” – felines are well-known for their love of lounging, with some sleeping up to 20 hours per day. This often sedentary lifestyle, exacerbated when cats live primarily indoors, combined with an unhealthy, high-calorie diet, leads to a sad statistic: 30-35% of cats are obese, with 50% of cats aged 5-11 years old considered overweight or obese.

Obesity in cats can impact their health significantly– obese cats often suffer from feline diabetes, osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, among other diseases.

How to determine if your cat is overweight or obese

Considering cats are often depicted in the media as chunky fur balls napping in a sunny window, it’s not surprising owners are often unsure if their cat is overweight. As with dogs, a visit to the vet is the only surefire way to find out if you have an overweight cat, but you can get a general idea of whether your cat is underweight, a healthy weight, or obese by comparing their shape to those on the Body Condition Scale Chart created by APOP. A cat of healthy weight does not have a rounded belly that droops when viewed from the side, and like dogs, you’ll also want to see a slight “waist” line, and be able to feel their ribs through their fur, so a cat falling at 5 of 9 is at the most ideal weight.

Helping an obese cat lose weight

A visit to the vet to determine if your cat is obese and develop a treatment plan is the best course of action, because putting a cat on a diet requires diligence and caution. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, if an obese cat does not eat for as little as two days, “they can develop a life-threatening form of liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis,” so you’ll want to be under the supervision of a professional. With the Lifetime Protection Membership from 24Petwatch, you have direct access to our 24/7 Vet Helpline, where you can connect with a veterinarian by phone, email, or live chat - so you can ask any questions you might have about helping your cat lose weight.

Giving a cat exercise also requires some creativity. Unlike dogs, who are often eager to run and play, cats did not evolve to enjoy aerobic activity, instead opting for short bursts of energy. To help obese cats get a bit more exercise, VCA recommends using feeding balls instead of a dry food bowl, moving their food away from the normal location so they have to seek it out, and using laser pointers or feathered toys to play with your cat for around 10 minutes, twice a day.

With a vet-supervised diet, check ins and regular exercise, VCA suggests that an overweight cat should reach a healthy weight in 6-8 months. From there, it is up to you to continue fostering a healthy lifestyle for your cat, to ensure they live long and happy lives.

An obese cat or dog is more likely to develop life-threatening diseases– and ensuring they stick to a healthy lifestyle is up to you. Feeding your pet a diet of high-quality food, and dedicating some time each day to breed-appropriate exercise can make all the difference in the world.