Pet obesity is a prevalent threat to many animals’ good health. According to the Association for Pet Obesity, it is estimated that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs were overweight or obese in the United States in 2018. That’s more than one-in-two! While it may seem harmless or even “cute” if your pet has a few extra pounds, excess weight can pose serious threats to pets’ health in the short and long-term.
Below, we’ve mapped out how to tell if your pet is overweight, the dangers of pet obesity, and what to do if your pet is obese, in order to help you keep your pet healthy and happy.
How to Tell if Your Pet is Obese or Overweight
While we recommend taking your pet to the vet at least twice a year to get a professional’s opinion on their weight, here are some ways to check on your pet’s weight at home.
To see if your cat is overweight, there are 4 areas you should look out for: their ribs, stomach, spine, and waist. When checking your cat’s ribs, run your hands along your cat’s side. If you can easily feel their ribs along with a little covering of fat, your cat is most likely a healthy weight. If you can’t easily feel the ribs, it’s possible your cat is overweight. Checking the abdomen is a visual test. If you look at your cat from the side and notice a layer of low-hanging fat, that could be a sign that your cat is overweight. When checking the spine, run your hands across your cat’s back. If you can’t easily feel the bones, your cat may be overweight. Finally, look at your cat from above. If you can’t clearly see their waist, and they’re more oval than hourglass shaped, your cat may be overweight.
When checking to see if your dog is overweight, you will be looking for many of the same things. If it’s difficult to feel your dog’s ribs because they are covered in a thick layer of fat, then it’s likely that your dog is overweight. When looking at your dog from the side, their stomach should appear to be tucked in right before the hind legs rather than hanging down. Some overweight dogs will also have fat deposits that hang between their front legs.
Why Your Pet’s Weight is Important to Their Health
Just like in humans, obesity in pets may shorten their lifespan, and can lead to other life threatening diseases or ailments. For instance, obesity commonly leads to many types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension in dogs. Obese cats are no exception. They are at a higher risk for many diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, urinary problems, and skin problems. Like obese dogs, overweight cats also experience a decreased quality of life and an increased likelihood of cancer. Being overweight will shorten your pet’s life, likely by years, and dramatically decrease their quality of life. Clearly, for both you and your pet, it’s not worth it if your pet is overweight to let them continue on that way.
How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight
Also like humans, there are two key factors to look at when helping your pet lose weight: exercise, and diet. Exercise or play can help your pet lose weight by burning extra calories. Take walks with your dog once or twice a day, play fetch, take them to the dog park, or go for a run in your neighborhood. For cats, a great way to help them stay active is with a simple laser pointer or other toy. You’ll have them running around the house to pounce in no time! However, it’s important to consult your veterinarian before starting any type of exercise regimen for your pet. If your pet is “out of shape” (literally!), then it is important to ease them back into an exercise routine so they don’t overexert themselves.
Secondly, your pet’s diet plays a huge role in their weight. Consider buying food and treats with a lower concentration of fat, as this will essentially act the same way as a diet does and should help your pet lose weight. Yes, you can find these foods at any major pet food store or at Chewy.com or Amazon.com! Remember that if you shop on Amazon, shop at Smile.Amazon.Com and make Friends of Miami Animals Foundation your charity of choice to support homeless pets in Miami-Dade County with every purchase. Also, no matter what type of food you are giving your pet, it’s better not to free feed. “Free feeding” is when you leave a bowl of food out all day for your pet, filling it at random times. Keep your pet’s feeding schedule to specific times of the day, twice a day.
Finally – you know what we’re about to say –do not give human food to pets, except for very rare and special occasions, even if your pet is already a healthy weight. Not only does feeding your pet human food greatly increase their chances of becoming obese, it can present serious health issues and also teaches them behaviors such as begging and stealing food, which of course you do not want to see in your pet. If you absolutely cannot resist treating your pet, instead of fatty or carb-heavy food such as bread, cheese, or peanut butter, try feeding your dog one of these healthy fruits or veggies instead: apples, carrots, peas, green beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, or oranges.