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How to Tell if Your Pet is Overweight or Obese
Ideal body weight is a calculation that your vet can do based on your pet’s body condition score. This body condition score is based off a 1-5 or 1-9 scale with 1 being severely underweight and 5 or 9 being obese. A perfect body condition score would be a 3 on the 1-5 scale or a 4/5 on the 1-9 scale. I recommend consulting the purina body condition score chart for dogs and cats to help you assess your pet. Purina’s website also has videos to help guide you on assessing your pet. A pet that is ideal weight will have an hour-glass figure from a bird’s eye view and the stomach will tuck up to the back legs (abdomen will be higher than the sternum). The ribs should also be felt with a small amount of padding overlying.
Causes of Obesity
Obesity is caused by an imbalance of energy intake versus energy expenditure. An animal’s caloric needs changes during different lifestages, mostly as a direct effect of activity level. For example, puppies generally need more calories than adult dogs due to puppies being more active and burning more calories. Hormones also play a role, with intact animals burning more calories than their spayed and neutered counterparts.
There are also some breeds that are more prone to being obese including the: Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog, Boxer, Cairn Terrier, Basset Hound, and Labrador Retriever, Dalmatian, Pug, Pekingese, Pomeranian, and Rottweiler.
Effects on Health
Obesity is an inflammatory process in the body. Inflammation and obesity have a wide range of effects on different body systems.
Obesity increases the overall carrying load on all the bones and joints. This extra stress as well as inflammation leads to osteoarthritis and quickens progression of joint degeneration. Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that effects quality of life and is often a cause of euthanasia.
Fat layering around the chest causes constriction when breathing. This in turn makes pets take more shallow breaths and requires more work. This usually results in coughing and worsening of conditions such as tracheal collapse. Obesity also reduces pulmonary and left ventricular function.
Obesity in cats decreases tissue response to insulin and is associated with the development of diabetes mellitus. High fat foods in dogs can also lead to pancreatitis, which can be a serious, life-threatening condition.
Other conditions associated with obesity are: hepatic lipidosis, bladder stones, neoplasia, cruciate ligament rupture, neoplasia, cushing’s (hyperadrenocorticism), and increased anesthetic risks.
Lean dogs live an average of 2 years longer than their obese counterparts 6. Obese cats have a 2.8 times increase in mortality than their lean counterparts7.
Tips for Weight management
An important factor in weight management is knowing the number of calories a pet is consuming in a day. It is important to take into account all the calories that come from treats and table scraps in addition to their normal amount of food. Work with your local vet to calculate how many calories a day your pet needs to be a healthy weight. It is important to keep in mind that only 10% of an animal’s daily calorie intake can come from treats.
Measure your pet’s food
The calories in pet food are often listed as a number per cup. This is a standard measuring cup. It is important to measure with a standard cup to get the accurate amount of calories. Most bagged food also comes with a feeding chart guideline. Keep in mind that these charts often recommend more food than most pets need since they are made considering dogs in all lifestages. If you are feeding the recommended amount, but your pet is overweight, decrease the amount by 25%.
Make sure you’re feeding an appropriate food
Puppy and senior foods generally contain more calories per cup than adult food. Senior foods are designed for pets around the ages of 8 and up. Small breed dogs and cats can switch from puppy food to adult food around the age of 1 and large breed dogs should be switched around 18 months. Canned food is also higher in calories than dry food.
Schedule your pet’s feedings
Pets fed a pre-determined amount of food twice daily are generally leaner than those that are free fed.
Keeping your pets active not only allows them to burn more calories but can also help with conditions such as arthritis.
Keep in mind that weight loss is generally a long and slow process. Healthy weight loss in pets is 1-2 pounds per week. Weigh your pet every 1-2 weeks on the same scale to monitor their progress.
- Sharkey L: The Pathophysiology of Obesity. ACVIM 2011.
- Palmero ML: The Obese Cat: A Ticking Time-Bomb. ISFM 2015.
- Larsen J: A Big Deal: Prevention and Management of Obesity. Southwest Veterinary Symposium 2019.
- Chiang C-F, Villaverde C, Chang W-C, et al: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Disease Associations of Overweight and Obesity in Dogs that Visited the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis from January 2006 to December 2015.. Top Companion Anim Med 2022 Vol 48 (0) pp. 100640.
- Chiang C-F, Villaverde C, Chang W-C, et al: Prevalence, risk factors, and disease associations of overweight and obesity in cats that visited the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis from January 2006 to December 2015.. Top Companion Anim Med 2022 Vol 47 (0) pp. 100620.
- Armstrong PJ: Canine Obesity: Disease Associations and Management. WSAVA 2011.
- Kirk C: Management of Feline Obesity. AAFP 2013.