Just as the rate of obesity is increasing for humans across the globe, the same is happening to our furry companions. Our pet dogs and cats are amazing at guilting their humans into sharing a piece of their meals, so as humans are increasingly choosing less healthy and more tasty options, our pets are also partaking more and more unhealthy foods. Couple that with larger portions, the normalizing of overweight animals on social media, and an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle for pets and humans alike, it’s no surprise that our pets are also suffering from the same obesity epidemic as we are.
At least 40% of pets these days are overweight, while at least 15% are obese. Many pet parents have no idea their pets are overweight due to social media and movies increasingly portraying overweight animals as ‘normal’. Unfortunately, just like in humans, being overweight, and especially being obese, can lead to several health issues for pets. A dog or cat with a normal body mass index should have an obvious tucked waist with rids that can be easily felt.
Is My Pet a Healthy Weight?
A great way to tell whether your pet is of a healthy weight is by using your hand:
Overweight - Open your hand with your palm facing towards you. Run your fingers over your knuckles on your palm. If your pet’s ribs feel like that, then he or she is likely overweight.
Underweight - Make a tight fist with the back of your hand facing towards you. Run your fingers over your knuckles. If your pet’s ribs are as pronounced as your knuckles feel, then he or she is likely underweight.
Normal weight - Open your hand and run your fingers over your knuckles on the back of your hand. If your pet’s ribs feel like that, then he or she is likely of a healthy weight.
Health Issues Associated with Being Overweight or Obese
Many health issues can stem from being overweight. Similarly to humans, pets can also develop diabetes, inflammatory diseases, skin diseases, constipation, joint pains and arthritis, spinal disc diseases, and breathing difficulties, among other illnesses as a direct result of being overweight or obese. Being overweight also drastically decreases a pet’s overall quality of life. Many pets stop grooming, playing, or exploring when they are overweight.
How Can I Help My Pet?
If your pet is overweight, working with your veterinarian to come up with a weight loss plan is the safest method to bring your pet back to a healthy weight. Oftentimes, they will recommend increasing the number of calories burned and decreasing the number of calories eaten. At the same time, supplements for joint, skin, and immune health may be recommended to help your pet in their weight loss journey and beyond.
Many pets are accustomed to eating calorie-dense human foods such as ice cream, whipped cream, peanut butter, and sometimes even steak or cake! All of these are empty calories for pets and bring little to no nutrition to their lives.
Next time your furry family member is eyeing your pizza, try giving them a portion of their regular dog food, a carrot, or a green bean instead. They can be asked to work for their food by feeding them through food puzzles or hiding healthy treats around your home for them to find. Ask them to run up and down some stairs, before they are rewarded with dinner - anything helps!
Again, don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian whether your pet is overweight. Overweight pets are very common, so there is nothing to be ashamed of. Most importantly is being able to get advice on how to best help your pet. What are your thoughts, questions, or concerns? Please feel free to reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or in the comments section if you have any other questions.
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.