Pet obesity is on the rise – What can be done to stop it?

Pet obesity is on the rise - What can be done to stop it?
Photo: Shutterdemon, Bigstock

Domestic pet obesity has reached an alarming level, with recent data showing that more than 50% of household dogs and cats are extremely overweight.

Why is pet obesity a problem, and is there a solution?

Here, we will discuss the complications that pets face as a result of obesity, as well as why you should care about the weight of your dog or cat.

When is a pet considered obese?

An animal is considered obese when it weighs 20% or more beyond the animal’s ideal weight. The proper weight for your dog can be determined by looking up breed standards, or by monitoring your pet’s body condition.

For instance, a dog’s spine should be easily felt when running your hand along his or her back. When looking at a dog’s side profile, a distinct “tuck up” at the waist should be visible. Additionally, for most short-haired dogs the last rib should be visible.

What are the causes of obesity?

In most instances,animals are obese because they are overfed and under-exercised. However, sometimes obesity can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. For instance, certain thyroid disorders such as Cushing’s Disease may result in water retention and weight gain.

Additionally, some dog breeds (such as Labrador Retrievers) are known to have an obesity gene. In these dogs, their brain does not adequately communicate to their stomachs when they are full, leaving the animals feeling constantly hungry and able to overindulge.

dog obesity
Photo: Kapa65, Pixabay

What are the complications of obesity

Dogs that suffer from obesity are far more likely to develop life-shortening illness. The most common problems associated with obesity include:


Diabetes occurs when the animal is unable to properly regulate his or her blood sugar. Symptoms include excessive thirst, dehydration, increased urination, fruity smelling breath, urinary tract infections, lethargy, and vomiting, among others. Diabetes is a costly disease for pets to have, as it requires frequent veterinary visits and medications.

Heart disease

When a dog is grossly overweight, his or her heart is unable to pump properly. A dog that is obese is more likely to experience cardiac problems, such as difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, coughing, weakness, poor appetite, changes in behavior, and fainting.


Being overweight places a lot of stress on an animal’s joints, which may be already weakened because of the animal’s breed. For instance, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers are highly likely to develop hip dysplasia, which is made even worse when the animal is carrying extra weight.

Underactive Thyroid

When pets are overweight, their endocrine systems do not function properly.The result is a sluggish, lethargic animal that suffers from a decreased quality of life and is susceptible to developing other thyroid-related issues, such as Cushing’s Disease.

Symptoms of thyroid disorders include weight gain, water retention, lethargy, dull coat, hair loss, skin odor, constipation, diarrhea, and cold intolerance, among others.


Perhaps most alarmingly, obesity is believed to be a risk factor for certain types of cancer in dogs. In one study published in American Journal of Veterinary Research, the incidence of obesity was recorded among a subset of dogs with cancer. The researchers found that nearly 40% of dogs with cancer were either overweight or obese, and that for some forms of cancer, being obese was a defining risk factor.

How can you prevent obesity in your dog?

The good news is that obesity is entirely preventable. Tips for preventing obesity in your dog include:

Portion control

Pet owners commonly overfeed their pets, because they often equate extra food with love. However, animals do not have the same mechanism for emotional eating as humans.

Instead, overfeeding an animal can be likened to animal abuse in some cases, because of the disastrous health effects of animal obesity.When deciding how much food to feed your pet, use the guidelines on the food label. As your pet ages, switch to a senior formula which will compensate for your pet’s slowing metabolism.


Pets are not made to be sedentary creatures. All dogs require a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, with some breeds requiring far more. Cats should be engaged in vigorous play activities to exercise both their bodies and minds.

All dogs require a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day
Photo: Matt Nelson, Unsplash

In addition to helping your pet lose weight, exercise is also good for reducing boredom and serves as a form of socialization. Many pet owners find that increased exercise even reduces the number of behavioral problems experienced at home.

Make healthy treat swaps

Pet treats are often laden with calories and fat. However, your pet doesn’t care about the difference between a piece of cheese or a cooked green bean. Swap out unhealthy treats for healthier (and less expensive) options such as cooked or canned vegetables for dogs or small pieces of canned tuna for cats (just make sure the tuna is packed in water, not in oil!).

combating pet obesity
A healthy dog is a happy dog. Photo: manushot via Bigstock

How to help your dog lose weight

If your pet is currently overweight or obese, the good news is that you can minimize the risk of disease by helping your pet lose weight. To begin, check your pet’s portion sizes at every meal and ensure they are correct for your pet’s breed and age. If you are unsure what your dog or cat should weigh, consult your veterinarian.

Next, determine whether your pet is receiving extra calories throughout the day in the form of table scraps and treats. Stop the table scraps entirely, and make healthy swaps for treats. If cutting out table scraps and treats causes your pet to beg, simply ignore the behavior. Remember that your animal’s health is of utmost importance.

Exercise is another important component of losing weight. However, if your dog is obese exercise may be difficult or painful. Speak to a veterinarian about your pet’s limits. Hydrotherapy (underwater exercise) is a safe way for overweight dogs to lose weight, as there is little to no impact placed on the animal’s joints.

If your pet is suffering from secondary concerns, such as poor circulation, hydrotherapy can also help to improve your pet’s condition. Ultimately, maintaining a healthy weight for your pet is the best way to ensure a long and happy life.