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Overweight Dogs and Cats Have Many Problems

Updated on October 29, 2015
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


If You're Overweight, Chances Are Your Pet Is, Too

If you’re battling your weight, please raise your hand. Just as I thought; about 99% of you, with several of you raising both hands.

We all know what a battle it is, with some of us winning, some not. Some of us trying real hard, some of us not giving a damn. Some of us know the consequences of our weight problem, some of us ignore them.

Being consenting adults, we can make those determinations on our own, and we can enjoy the fruits of our best efforts or suffer the consequences of our indifference.

But our pets can’t.


Our pets don’t overeat, they’re overfed. They don’t eat junk food, they’re fed it. Our pets aren’t couch potatoes, we choose not to exercise them. It’s up to us to do the right thing and not send them, unarmed, into a battle with their weight.

That being said, various sources put the number of overweight pets in the U.S. in the 50% to 65% range. The number of obese pets is in the 25% to 45% range. An animal is defined as obese when its weight is 20% over its optimal weight. Morbidly obese is 25% above optimal.

Owners are influential players since the major causes of obesity in pets are: A) improper diet (provided by owners), B) too many table scraps and treats (provided by owners), and C) lack of exercise (deprived by owners).

Absent a metabolic disorder or other underlying health issue that predisposes them to weight gain, pretty much the only way a pet can become overweight is to be overfed. Not "overeat," as I hear many owners claim. "He's such a chow hound." "All he does is eat." We control the resources, and sometimes we need to do a better job of it.

Dealing with pet owners for over 20 years, I can't tell you how many of them I've heard say things like, "My vet says his weight is fine, but I think he looks too thin, so I want to put a little weight on him." Perception may not be reality, and body conformation isn't that simple, anyway.

Determining an animal's correct weight is more involved than just "eyeballing" him. Vets generally use a scale of 1 to 9 to evaluate an animal's optimal weight; 1 being emaciated, 9 being dangerously obese, and 5 being just right.

To arrive at this number, the vet will take readings at several different points on the animal's body, and consider other factors such as genetics, lifestyle, body condition, diet and overall health. Personally, I think it's unwise to overrule the vet and tamper with a pet's weight.

Which brings us to the consequences of obesity in pets. Like us, obese animals are vulnerable to arthritis and other problems with bones and joints. I think it's worse for them. If I've got a pot belly hanging between my shoulders and hips, at least I've got 3 feet of legs holding it up. Quadrupeds get a pot belly that hangs between their shoulders and hips, too, but on a horizontal plane. Think how that must feel on the shoulders, back, hips and four ankles.


Overweight pets are also subject to respiratory problems, especially bulldogs, pugs and other dogs with short snouts (back on the block we just called them brachycephalics). To those breeds, breathing difficulties is the default setting.

Fat dogs and cats also often suffer high blood pressure and heart disease, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, and liver problems. They are also poorer surgical risks and are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.

Obese animals are candidates for digestive disorders, reproductive disorders, and problems with skin and coat. Their condition also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to groom themselves, which presents a special problem for cats.

Overweight pets are at greater risk of contracting cancer, less tolerant of heat, and generally have less stamina than animals at optimal weight. And sadly, overweight animals usually die at a younger age than those at optimal weight, generally averaging about about two and a half years younger, depending upon the severity of their obesity.

When I was a kid, folks fed the dog off of the table and thought he was living the high life. We thought it was normal for them to scratch and fart all the time, and to have BO and brown teeth. Since then, animal nutrition has been thoroughly studied, is well-documented and is pretty well-understood, and there's no comparing the condition of today's family pet to those of 50 years ago. When I was a kid, we sort of expected old dogs to be fat and lazy, and weren't alarmed when they ended up that way.

But, we just can't seem to overcome that obesity conundrum. There are studies that suggest that if we're overweight, our children and our pets are likely to be overweight also. In one study I read about, most of the people who were overweight didn't think they had a weight problem. There's that perception/reality thing again.

With the wide variety of complete and balanced diets, supplements, nutraceuticals and veterinary care available today, there's no reason for any pet to be overweight. But just as with people; easier said than done!

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Always nice to have you drop by, Christine! Yes, we are an obese nation and we're reminded of it constantly in the media. Also, the nanny state wants to take over our table habits. It makes you want to overeat just out of spite, although, personally, I don't need such an excuse.

      I used to be obese, now I'm just overweight by about 10 to 15 pounds. A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes was my wake up call. My cat was always at her proper weight, though.

      I'm gonna steal that "didn't have the energy to die" line sometime. That's a good one. I'm sorry your Mom's cat passed this year. It sounds like he had a better life than some other males whose paths they crossed. Thanks, again, for checking in and for the votes. Regards, Bob

    • Christine Miranda profile image

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      We really ARE an obese nation aren't we? Love the picture...just in time for fall. :) My mother had a cat that was about 20 lbs. My dog is 13.9! It passed away this year. He lived to be 18 years old, probably cause he didn't have the energy to die. Anyway, it's the longest relationship with a male shes had. Great Hub Bob. Voted up & more.