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Obesity in cats and dogs

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It is estimated that nearly half of the dogs and many of the cats in the United States are overweight, or obese, which indicates a serious weight problem. Pets generally love to eat, and, just like in people, this love of food can pack on the pounds. 

An easy way to estimate the proper weight for your dog is to feel the ribs and points on top of the backbone. These should be easily felt, with just a small amount of underlying fat. If not, your pet likely has a weight problem. Overweight dogs and cats are at greater risk of a wide variety of conditions, including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, back problems, and skin problems. Obesity also makes it difficult for your pet to get around, and many obese pets pant or gasp after only mild exercise or routine day-to-day activity.

Weight gain is caused by taking in too many calories and not burning enough off through exercise; in other words, an imbalance between calorie intake and exercise output. So, the most effective and healthy way to reduce your pet's weight is to cut down the calories and increase the exercise. Your veterinarian may recommend starting a weight loss program by switching your pet's diet to a commercial reducing diet that is high in nutrition but low in calories. New diets should always be introduced gradually because sudden changes can lead to digestive upsets.

Breaking up the daily amount of food into several small feedings can help distract your pet from the fact that it is eating fewer calories. Avoid feeding snacks between meals. Keep in mind that dog biscuits and other pet treats contain calories as well, sometimes many more than you would think!  Most importantly, don't feed table scraps, which are nearly always high in calories and low in nutrients.

The new diet should be coupled with an exercise program to get your pet's metabolism going. It's best to begin gradually, starting with short walks and then increasing their length. The daily exercise may also improve your health!

It is important to remember that pets don't rummage through the fridge or buy fast food. We control what they eat. Dramatic weight loss and health improvement can be achieved if you remain committed and put your pet's health first.

Q&A

Is obesity a problem in pets?

It is estimated that nearly half of the dogs and many of the cats in the United States are overweight, with a good percentage of these pets classified as obese.  Overweight dogs and cats are at greater risk for a wide variety of health conditions, including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, back problems, and skin problems. 


How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

An easy way to estimate the proper weight for your dog is to feel the ribs and points on top of the backbone.  These should be easily felt, with just a small amount of underlying fat.


How can I reduce my pet’s weight?

The most effective and healthy way to reduce your pet’s weight is to cut down the calories and increase the exercise.  Your veterinarian may recommend starting a weight loss program by switching to a commercial reducing diet that is high in nutrition but low in calories. 


Any other helpful (and healthful) hints for helping my pet lose weight?

Breaking up the daily amount of food into several small feedings can help distract your pet from the fact that it is eating fewer calories.  Avoid feeding any snacks (including dog biscuits or pet treats) between meals, and never feed table scraps, which are nearly always high in calories and low in nutrients.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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