Although joking about a dog’s “big boned” physique or a cat’s curvy silhouette can be funny, pet obesity is no laughing matter—nor a strictly aesthetic problem. Excess weight—only a few pounds—can make your pet more vulnerable to serious health issues and may ultimately shorten their life.

Go beyond skin deep and discover the really big problems with pet obesity in this guide from the Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek. 

Size matters—the pet obesity epidemic

In the United States, nearly 60% of dogs and cats are classified as overweight or obese. That’s more than 50 million dogs and 56 million cats. Plus, the prevalence of overweight and obese pets has been increasing since 2010, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

As the modern pet’s waistline expands, their lifespan has paradoxically shrunk. According to one retrospective study of more than 50,000 dogs, overweight canines lived 2.5 years less than their healthy weight counterparts.

Weighty issues—weight-associated health issues in pets

Weight and body image are hot-button topics in today’s culture, but excess fat tissue in the body should always be viewed as a health concern. Fat is a known contributor to chronic—often debilitating—health issues that negatively affect quality of life. For pets, who rely on humans to feed and care for them, owners’ decisions must prioritize health and wellness above all else. Extra pounds place your pet at risk for the following conditions:

  • Orthopedic problems — Excess fat tissue puts extra pressure on your pet’s joints and makes performing ordinary activities, such as walking, rising, and playing, a challenge. Weight-related orthopedic problems include:
    • Arthritis
    • Cruciate ligament rupture
    • Intervertebral disc disease
    • Worsening hereditary conditions (e.g., patellar luxation, hip or elbow dysplasia)
  • Inflammatory conditions — Excess fat tissue creates an unhealthy, chronically inflamed internal environment. This continuous inflammation weakens your pet’s immune system and puts them at an increased risk for serious health issues, including:
    • Cancer
    • Allergies
    • Respiratory problems
  • Hormone disorders — Obese pets can experience endocrine abnormalities that result in serious health issues, including:
    • Diabetes mellitus (i.e., Type 2 diabetes)
    • Thyroid dysfunction
    • Cushing’s disease

Blame game—certain pets may be obesity-prone

Although any dog or cat can become overweight or obese, breed and circumstances put some pets at an increased risk for weight gain. Owners whose pets have one or more risk factors should speak with their veterinarian, and closely monitor their pet’s diet and exercise routine. Risk factors include:

  • Breed — Labrador and golden retrievers, Newfoundlands, cocker spaniels, pugs, Shetland sheepdogs, Basset hounds, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels are more likely to be overweight. Mixed-breed cats have a higher risk than purebred cats.
  • Pre-existing injury — Pets may be less active because they are in pain.
  • Undiagnosed medical condition — Canine hypothyroidism can be a medical reason for dogs rapidly gaining weight.
  • Lifestyle — Apartment-dwelling pets, pets left alone for extended periods, or pets with sedentary owners may be more likely to gain weight.

Gut check—how to assess your pet’s weight

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 9 out of 10 pet owners do not recognize that their pet is overweight. Since you can’t fix what you can’t see, here’s a simple method for assessing your pet’s body condition at home:

  • Tickle those ribs — Place your hands flat on either side of your pet’s rib cage. You should be able to easily feel all your pet’s ribs without pressing or squeezing. 
  • Look for the hourglass — From above, with your pet standing, you should see a clearly defined waist between the last rib and the hip bones.
  • Assess the silhouette — When your pet is standing naturally at a distance, you should see a clearly defined upward curve along their underline, from the last rib to the groin. 

Determine your pet’s body condition score by comparing your findings to the appropriate dog or cat score chart. If your pet’s score is greater than five, it’s time to take action.

Fat chance—help and hope for overweight pets

Every pet is unique, as well as their lifestyle, health status, daily habits, and the cause for their obesity. Therefore, starting your pet’s weight loss journey with a visit to the Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek is crucial. Weight management appointments typically include the standard exam process, as well as specific assessments that gauge your pet’s emotional health, activity, and lifestyle. Your pet’s visit will likely include:

  • Detailed discussion about your pet’s diet, including treats and table scraps, physical activity, general behavior, and any other known ailments.
  • Nose-to-tail exam
  • Blood work 
  • Baseline measurements

If no medical cause can be determined, your veterinarian will work with you to design a safe and effective weight loss plan for your pet that will include:

  • Nutritional counseling
  • Portion measurement
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Exercise ideas and guidelines

Obesity is a treatable condition in dogs and cats, but to ensure success, owners must first let go of any guilt or shame about their pet’s state, and accept that safe and effective weight loss is more than a matter of feeding less and exercising more. With help and guidance from our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team, you can make healthy and appropriate changes that transform your pet’s waistline—and their life. Contact our team to schedule an appointment.