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Obesity in Pets: Risks and Tips on How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

English Bulldog laying in bed


If you firmly believe that the fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, you might think tossing your pet a few extra treats is the pinnacle of love. But when your shows of affection lead to extra padding on your furry friend’s tummy, you may wonder if you should cut back on the goodies.

Is My Pet Obese?

You might panic if your favorite pair of jeans starts to feel a little snug. But humans aren't the only ones facing rising weight issues. According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, research in 2022 showed 61% of cats and 59% of dogs were obese or overweight. Is your pet one of them?

Luckily, one of the leading causes of obesity in pets is preventable. It’s giving them too much to eat, including their regular food, treats, and table scraps. Add to this lack of proper exercise, and your pet’s weight can quickly start to balloon.

However, there are also several medical conditions that contribute to obesity, for example, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s Disease. Additionally, some breeds are more susceptible to obesity than others, like Dachshunds, Beagles, and Pugs. But before you get ahead of yourself, take a good look at your dog or cat.

Signs Your Pet Might Be Obese

Many times, weight gain in pets is gradual, occurring over a period of time that makes it tricky to notice. You also see your pet every day, which means sometimes it’s a little tougher to distinguish more subtle changes in their weight.

However, if your pet starts gaining weight, there are a few things you’re prone to notice. These differences occur in both how your pet looks and how they behave.

Here are some of the main signs your pet is on their way to obesity.

  • Less Energy — Do they appear to have less energy than they usually do? Perhaps your pup’s starting to struggle during your daily walk, or your kitty gets tired out a few seconds into your play session.
  • Extra Weight — Maybe you’ve noticed steady weight gain or some extra padding over your pet’s ribs. Cats and dogs weighing more than 20% over their ideal body weight are obese.
  • Tight Collar — If you need to loosen your pet’s collar or harness, this could signal weight gain.

If you notice these signs, your first step should be to schedule a weight check with your veterinarian. Your vet will also assess your pet’s body condition to see where they fall on the body condition spectrum.

Obesity in Pets: What to Expect at the Vet

When you bring your dog or cat to the vet with weight concerns, your vet will weigh your pet and do a regular physical examination. Then, your vet will also evaluate your pet’s overall body shape and condition.

Depending on your vet, they’ll assess your pet on a body condition scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. If using the first option, three is ideal, and on a 1 to 9 scale, five is ideal. Your vet will also provide you with your pet’s appropriate weight based on their breed, size, age, etc.

It’s also highly likely that your vet will run labs to check for any underlying conditions that could contribute to your pet’s weight gain. It’s important to rule out any potential health reasons before determining the best treatment plan.

In some cases, your vet might also need to order ultrasounds or X-rays to check for any masses or excess fluid. However, these tests are typically more common if the weight gain is sudden.

Risks of Pet Obesity

If your pet’s overweight, helping them get healthy is a top priority. Obese pets are at increased risk for a variety of conditions, including kidney disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. They’re also more likely to become overheated, have respiratory problems, and undergo issues with surgeries and other medical procedures.

Other risks include more susceptibility to high blood pressure, certain cancers, and insulin resistance. The extra weight puts more strain on your pet’s joints, bones, and muscles.

Your pet is also destined to have an overall reduced quality of life and shorter lifespan if they're obese. So what can you do to help your furry friend reach a healthy weight and enjoy a better, longer life?

Cat licking their lips

Ways to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

Wait for your vet’s assessment. If underlying conditions are at play that lead to your pet’s obesity, your vet will recommend the appropriate care plan. Depending on the condition, your pet might need medication, surgery, or other types of ongoing medical treatment.

Gradual weight gain from overfeeding or lack of exercise calls for a change in lifestyle and habits (for you and your pet). Here are the changes you can expect to make.

  • Discuss a specific diet plan with your vet.  It is not okay to simply start feeding your pet less food. Your pet’s doctor will likely recommend switching to a food specifically designed for weight reduction.
  • Stay consistent with your pet’s new diet plan, including the type of food, frequency of meals, and portions. Don’t leave your pet’s food dish down all the time. Stick to designated meals.
  • Skip the extra snacks. Treats should only account for about 10% of your pet’s daily calories. You may want to skip them completely or talk with your vet about swapping them out for lower-calorie options.
  • Add activities to your pet’s day, whether walking your dog or coming up with fun exercises for your cat. However, do so gradually and monitor your pet closely.
  • Schedule regular weigh-ins with your vet or animal clinic to track your pet’s progress. They’ll want to make sure your pet is losing weight at an appropriate rate. If your pet’s losing too quickly or slowly, your vet will make adjustments.
  • Use a slow-feed bowl to help your pet pace themselves when they eat.
  • Make sure everyone is on board with your pet’s weight-loss plan. It won’t do you or your pet any favors if Grandpa keeps sneaking Fido scraps under the dinner table. This goes beyond friends and family too. Make sure any pet sitters, dog walkers, etc., also know your pet’s special food needs.

Remember, your pet needs your help on their weight-loss journey. They aren’t going to cue up a fitness video on YouTube or turn down a treat from an unaware neighbor. It’s up to you to make sure they get what they need when they need it.

Keeping Your Pet at a Healthy Weight

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows it’s not just about reaching your goal. Sometimes, the more challenging part is keeping the weight off. Therefore, when your pet loses the necessary weight, don’t let things start to slip.

Reassess the meal plan with your vet to make any changes to portions, food type, and feeding times. Show your pet how much you love them through quality time, a new toy, or a generous belly rub instead of lots of treats. Keep up regular playtimes and exercise with your faithful, furry friend. And don’t forget to check out the Neater Pets blog for more ways to take the best care of your fur baby.


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