Obesity in Cats and Dogs

As humans we have developed countless ways to show our love and affection. Sharing food is just one of them. Since many of us consider our pets family members we have a tendency to also include them in this food sharing experience. Often we forget how much our pets consume during a regular day and we all have to admit that quite often we get a bit carried away using food as a reward and treat.

Recognizing weight problems

How do you know whether your cat or dog is overweight? Pet food manufacturer Purina has published informative body condition scales for cats and dogs.

Look at the pictures and read the description for each body condition score (BCS). Then look and touch your pet. You will be surprised at the results. For an ideal body condition you should easily be able to feel the ribs. Be objective! Try not to enter the land of denial. If you have to push hard to feel your pet’s ribs – that’s not muscle – that’s fat!

Over the years I have heard a lot of explanations (or should I say excuses) for overweight cats and dogs. “He’s just a big boy.” “It’s all muscle.” “He’s big boned.” Well, no. He’s obese. And being overweight your pet enters a vicious cycle of obesity and inability to exercise which in turn makes weight loss rather difficult. What is even more concerning, with obesity comes a whole array of diseases that will shorten your pet’s lifespan.

The reason for weight gain

What makes our pets first chubby and then fat? We do. We feed them too much, sometimes the wrong thing, and provide them with too little exercise.

Do not overfeed your pet. Make sure all family members are consistent with the feeding schedule and your pet is not fed two or three times a day by accident. Do not leave food out all the time. There is no need to do that.

Too many treats in addition to regular food can be a real problem. Not too long ago a lady came to my clinic with a cat weighing in at 18.6 lbs. and a BCS of 8. That’s pretty big. She said she only fed the cat one-quarter of a small can of wet and one-eighth of a cup of dry cat food a day. That should not have caused her cat’s obesity. However, when I asked her a few more questions she admitted that she also fed about 25 to 30 cat treats per day. Now we found the culprit. Instead of giving a lot of treats as rewards, remember that dogs and cats are as happy with praise (well, most anyway).

What and how much should you feed?

There is no universal answer to how much you should feed your pet. It depends on your pet’s metabolism and lifestyle. The dog living in a family with four young kids gets considerably more exercise than a dog living with a senior citizen. And it is very difficult to provide an indoor cat with enough exercise to burn off the calories it consumes even when fed only very little. The amount of food has to be adjusted to your pet’s unique circumstances. That’s where the body conditioning system comes in handy.

Aside from feeding too much we often are also feeding the wrong food. Cats are obligatory carnivores; they are built by nature to digest protein and fat (as found in small rodents and mice). Living with us most cats are fed a dry kibble diet high in carbohydrates. Result – obesity and with it all the other problems like diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease, to name just a few. Dogs can handle carbohydrates better than cats but still most do not get enough exercise to work off the high caloric intake carbohydrates provide. The medical consequences of obesity in dogs include but are not limited to joint disease, intervertebral disk disease, diabetes mellitus and heart disease.

In regard to obesity it is better to feed a low carbohydrate diet that is high in protein and fat, unless your pet has been diagnosed with a disease that requires a specially formulated diet. Your veterinarian can advise you on this.

More exercise, please!

Last but not least increase your pet’s exercise. Consider taking your dog to agility, fly ball or simply out to the off-leash park. Provide your indoor cat with lots of interactive toys and if you give the occasional treat, make kitty work for it.

If despite changes to your pet’s feeding schedule there is no improvement in his or her body condition, there may be a medical problem present and you should consult your veterinarian.
But let’s face it – for both humans and pets, being overweight is mostly the result of an excess of food and a lack of exercise. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and the second step is to address it with a healthy dose of common sense.

Good luck to you and your pet.

By Dr. Sandra Neumann