MSE cares for pets from the inside out!


Dr. Lark's Pet Blog                                                              February 2009

Obese pets

 Twenty-two to 40% of dogs and cats seen by veterinarians are either overweight or obese. As in humans, obesity has serious health ramifications. Excess weight can predispose a pet to:

  • Shorter life
  • Cardio-respiratory disorders
  • Urinary disorders
  • Orthopedic problems (joint problems, including hip dysplasia)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Reproductive disorders from conception to lactation
  • Cancer
  • Skin diseases
  • Anesthesia complications

 Owners can determine if their pet is overweight by feeling for the back and/or rib bones on a dog. On cats, the presence of a pendulous fold of loose skin hanging in front of the hind legs, or matted fur along the spine near the tail head are telltale signs of excess weight. The actual weight of the animal is not necessarily a good indicator.

 Pets become overweight or obese for several reasons. These include:

  • A few diseases (hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocortism)
  • Genetics (Some breeds are more likely to become overweight, e.g., Labrador Retriever, Cairn Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, Cocker Spaniel in dogs, and Domestic Shorthair in cats)
  • Neutering
  • Dietary factors – number of meals and treats, table scraps, the presence of the pet when the owner prepared food for themselves and/or ate. Availability of food – cats with free choice food are more likely to become overweight.
  • Behavioral factors – in cats these include anxiety, depression, failure to establish a normal feeding behavior, and failure to develop control of satiety. Also, misinterpretation of cat behavior – cats may seek attention, which the owner misreads as hunger.


 Pet weight loss is achieved by decreasing energy intake and/or increasing energy output (exercise). If feeding canned or dry food, read the package label. It should give the recommended amounts for pets of various (ideal) weights. This daily amount can be divided up and fed as several small meals throughout the day, rather than one large one. Overweight cats should be fed several small meals as well, rather than the ever-present dry food. Most cats normally eat small amounts throughout the day anyway.

 Diets high in fiber will help the pet reach satiety with fewer calories. Fiber is digested by microorganisms in the colon to generate energy. This energy is released over a longer period of time than soluble carbohydrates such as sugar and starch. Some of these latter carbohydrates are not digested well in the cat, and this will be discussed in a future article. Dogs, like humans, can digest most carbohydrates. Unfortunately, they also generate a lot of energy, which can lead to obesity. Carbohydrates themselves are not evil, dogs can digest them just fine. They become a problem when they are overfed.

 Exercise increases metabolic rate, which burns stored energy. Take your pudgy pup for a daily walk or run, play Frisbee, or throw a ball or stick for them to retrieve, anything that makes them move. Cats are less adapted to this kind of exercise. However, many do like to chase things, and some even retrieve light objects such as the ring off of gallon jugs of milk. Move their food so they are forced to jump or climb to get it. Leave the curtains open so they can watch birds. Some cats like to watch television, they try to “catch” things on the screen.

 ote: when decreasing food intake, or changing to a “lower calorie” diet, make the change gradually. This means add a small amount of the new food to the old one and increase every few days until the pet is eating only the new food. This may also help acclimate them to a food they might consider unappetizing.

 Some people feed BARF (bones and raw food) because this diet keeps their pets lean. Be aware that feeding BARF is analogous to a human going on the Atkins, or high protein diet. Both require a metabolic change to convert protein to energy (gluconeogenesis). This process has to be turned on in both dogs and humans, usually after the body runs out of glucose stored in the muscles (glycogen). This may take a few days. Gluconeogenesis is always “on” in cats, they must have some animal protein in their diet or become ill or even die.

 Your cat or dog will live a longer, healthier life if you keep them near at or near ideal weight. Excess weight has serious consequences that could require expensive veterinary care.


 Supplement: The WALTHAM International Sciences Symposia Innovations in Companion Animal Nutrition: Obesity and Weight Management, A. J. German, J. Nutr. 136:1940S-1946S, July 2006.