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Obese Pets: How to Help Your Furry Friend Stay Slim

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

Given that today is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, I thought I would touch on the topic and provide some handy references and tips for those pet owners concerned about the size of their furry companions.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 33 million (44%) of US Dogs and 51 million (57%) US Cats are Overweight or Obese.

“Pudgy pooches and fat cats are now the norm.” states Dr. Ernie Ward, founder and President of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) in a recent press release. He goes on to suggest that “the majority of today’s overweight pets will endure painful and expensive medical conditions – all of which can be avoided.”

But how can you tell if your pet is overweight or obese?

Here are a few simple guidelines provided by APOP:

Your Pet is Overweight if…
- Difficult to feel ribs under fat
- Sagging stomach – you can grab a handful of fat!
- Broad, flat back
- No waist is apparent

More specifically, you can refer to the Body Conditioning Scoring System for Dogs and Cats which has an easy to follow grading system (with pictures) : 1 (very thin), 2 (underweight), 3 (ideal), 4 (overweight), 5 (obese).

The APOP website also offers a helpful Pet Obesity Info Sheet which lists the proper weights of various breeds of dogs and cats, their regular dietary needs (calories), as well as nutritional information for various pet treats and foods.

For example, did you know that your Golden Retriever should not be exceeding 75 lbs while your regular domestic cat should stay under 10 lbs?

Much as in humans, excess weight among pets is associated with increased risk of numerous diseases including: osteoarthritis , diabetes, hypertension , cardiovascular disease , and cancer.

And what are the factors predisposing your pet to gaining excess weight?

A 2003 study conducted by Robertson in Murdoch University, Australia used a random telephone survey of 2326 households in the Perth metropolitan region to interview the 657 owners of a total of 860 dogs. In this study, most dogs (69.7%) were considered by their owners to be the correct-weight or body-condition, while 25.2% were considered overweight or obese - numbers that are lower than those documented in the US.

The study found that dogs that were overweight or obese were more likely to be neutered, fed snacks, be of older age, and ate only one meal a day. Additionally, for every hour of exercise performed by the dog each week their risk of obesity fell by 10%.

As your pet’s owner, you are responsible for ensuring little Mr. Bojangles lives a long and healthy life. To do so, you have to keep your cat or dog at a normal weight.

Once again, the APOP provides very helpful advice for managing your pet’s excess weight (Read: weight management for dogs and weight management for cats).

In the end, the strategies are quite similar to that for obese humans.

First, the pet should be checked by a vet for any possible disease states predisposing to obesity, and making weight loss potentially difficult.

Second is calorie balance – increasing the amount of daily exercise your pet gets (easier with dog than cat), while limiting the number of calories they ingest – being particularly careful to not exceed their nutritional requirements with snacks and scraps of “people food” or by using a self-feeder.

Keeping a daily log of activity, caloric intake, and regular weigh-ins is a good way to track progress. For a sample food and activity log for your pet click here.

And finally, if you would like your pet to participate in today's national effort to raise awareness of pet obesity, and help establish reliable data on the severity of the issue, please fill out the online Pet Obesity Data Form.

To help you figure out how to make the necessary measurements, like waist circumference, please watch the below videos (one for dog owners, and one for cat owners). [Note to email subscribers to log onto Obesity Panacea to view videos]

For more help or instruction please log onto the APOP website, which is the best website I have come across specifically addressing pet obesity.


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Robertson, I. (2003). The association of exercise, diet and other factors with owner-perceived obesity in privately owned dogs from metropolitan Perth, WA Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 58 (1-2), 75-83 DOI: 10.1016/S0167-5877(03)00009-6

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3 Response to "Obese Pets: How to Help Your Furry Friend Stay Slim"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    As a pet owner I appreciated your post. It seems that when we "humanize" our pets behaviour, the more they inherit our falters. At one point, my girlfriend and I noticed our dog was getting a little pudgy around the mid section. It was quite noticeable when we gave him belly rubs. I’m sure he didn’t mind, there was just more belly to rub.

    However, I was quick to pass judgment on my furry little friend and I failed to judge myself. Interestingly, my belly grew along with his. It was a sign that my sedentary lifestyle was affecting the whole "family", I actually felt guilty, because he had no choice but to get fat with me. They are our most loyal companions and even get fat along with us. I guess the least we could owe them is to give them the exercise they enjoy so much.

    Speaking of which, is there science to explain why dogs love to run around and exercise, if you could put that in a pill, obesity would be gone forever! :o)


    Posted on October 14, 2009 at 2:38 PM

  2. PharmacistScott Said,

    Great post! Thank you.

    Posted on October 16, 2009 at 10:34 PM

  3. pet insurance Said,

    that cat is wayy too obese. its also the owner's fault, isn't it?

    Posted on January 7, 2010 at 12:52 PM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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