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:
Orthopedic problems (joint problems, including hip dysplasia)
Reproductive disorders from conception to lactation
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.
become overweight or obese for several reasons. These include:
A few diseases
(hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocortism)
(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)
– 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.
– 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Obesity and Weight Management,
A. J. German,
J. Nutr. 136:1940S-1946S, July 2006.