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The Effect of Obesity on Pets

Feb 23, 2021
PVery obese dog

We all love our furry friends and they’re part of the family from the time they come into our home until the day they leave it. While we often keep a close eye on our own health and weight, it can be too tempting to sneak your furry pet a snack or two or three. Those puppy dog eyes can make you give up the extra treat in no time!

Obesity in humans can cause serious health complications and our furry pets are no different. The years they’re with us are much shorter than our human family but no less precious and keeping them at a healthy weight is crucial to their well-being. Obesity can affect joints, heart health, and so much more if your pet becomes overweight.

But all is not lost! If they start to gain weight, there are several ways to reverse it and get them back in a healthy state of being. Every pet deserves the best life and sometimes that means saying yes to an extra walk and no to an additional treat!

We're going to talk through some of the effects of obesity on pets, causes of weight gain, and ways to help reverse the effects. Your pet deserves the best life and you can make it a great one!

Causes of Obesity in Pets

The days of dogs running wild on the plains or dashing through the streets are long gone and instead, backyards and dog runs are the norm. There's also been a change in the type of food dogs eat which can cause them to gain more weight in the long term. With all of these factors playing a role, it's no wonder that nearly a quarter of dogs are now obese and nearly half weigh more than they should.

What is Obesity?

Obese golden retriever

Obesity is considered an accumulation of excess body fat while body weight is the overall weight of the pet. It's much easier to measure body weight instead of body fat so most vets and pet health professionals use bodyweight measurements to guide their diagnosis of obesity.

Dogs are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10-20% above their ideal body weight. Obesity is diagnosed when body weight is above 20% of the ideal weight.

Many dogs end up being overweight but aren't quite considered obese until their body weight goes far above the ideal weight for their size and breed.

How to Tell if My Dog is Obese?

Everybody loves a chubby puppy and that’s half the problem when it comes to identifying obesity in your pet. With so many images on social media of overweight and chubby pets, pet owners can often be tricked to think that their dog fits in with the rest of the world. The best way to identify if your pet is overweight or obese is to consult your vet or vet tech team but there are a few ways you can get clued in at home!

Rib coverage on a dog is one of the best ways to identify if your pet is overweight or obese. When you hold your hand with the palm down and touch the knuckles with your fingertips, this is how your dog's ribs should feel. You should be able to feel them with some cushion but not too much. You can also check to see that they have a defined waist without deposits along the tailbone.

Common Causes of Obesity in Pets

Large ginger cat

There are two main causes of obesity in pets: eating too much and not exercising enough.

Food and treats make pets gain weight fast as they can be high in calories and fat. While foods are balanced nutritionally, feeding too much each day can cause your pet to bulk up quickly. Those puppy dog eyes can con you out of treats and people's food too which tend to build up fat deposits.

Pet food is specially calibrated to balance all the nutritional needs of your pet, but when you've got some people's food that seems especially delicious in the eyes of your dog or cat, it can be too much to look away and say no. Since human food isn't balanced the way pet food is, dogs can start to gain weight quickly from too many treats.

To read more on what human food your dog can or can’t eat, please read our dangers of feeding food scraps to your dog blog.

Pets who aren’t exercised enough will also gain weight quickly. Dogs and cats are descended from wild animals who were acclimated to running wild and they need to expend energy. Pets need regular exercise whether through playing games or regular walks and this expended energy helps to burn fat and keep pets a healthy weight.

Many pets will often gain weight in the winter as their owners avoid their usual exercise routine due to cold, wet weather. This isn’t necessary as there are plenty of ways you can exercise your pet indoors without getting wet. We discuss some of these ways in our 8 ways to exercise your pet indoors blog.

Some factors make pets more susceptible to gaining excess weight, for example certain breeds are at a higher risk of becoming obese and smaller dogs, especially those that are less inclined to expend large amounts of energy in daily life, seem to become overweight more quickly than larger breeds with a more natural tendency to zoomies.

Neutered pets are also at a higher risk of obesity. Many neutered pets experience a natural decline in energy after the procedure which means they aren’t burning calories like usual. Unaware of this, pet owners will often keep feeding them the same amount each day leading to weight gain and health issues.

Lastly, one of the largest factors when it comes to obese pets is the owner. Owners who are less energetic or obese themselves often see their pets become overweight. This can have several aspects including the owner's disinclination to exercise their pet and a habit of sharing people's food with the pet.

Effects of Obesity on Pets

English Bulldog

Asking yourself “why is my pet obese” is a great starting point when it comes to helping your dog or cat become healthier and live a healthy life. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step toward making good, sustainable life changes.

There are some serious effects that obesity can have on the health and well being of your dog or cat. The first of which is that it shortens their life. Dogs and cats only have a few precious years to spend with us and being obese can shorten their lifespan by 6 months to a year and even longer if they develop a related condition like diabetes!

If dogs and cats are obese, they quickly become more at risk of developing many different conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. These diseases can make it hard for your pets to be active and enjoy life with you. Reducing obesity and weight gain is the best way to return them to health and keep them here longer.

Large dogs are at a greater risk of developing bone and joint issues and added weight increases that tension and risk exponentially. Even in small pets, joint health can become an issue when weight is factored in. Pets can also start to develop bladder stones and incur anesthetic complications if they have to undergo surgery or veterinary procedures.

While obesity is often associated with lack of exercise and overeating, it can also be an indicator of diseases like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. These are rarer causes of obesity but they can’t be ruled out. Check with your vet and vet tech team to determine if these underlying diseases might play a factor in your pet’s obesity or weight gain!

Beyond the long-term health risks, dogs and cats and other pets love to run and play! When you engage with them to help them lose weight by exercising more regularly and keeping their diet in check, you’re helping them feel better and have more fun. They’ll be happier because they get to spend quality time with you doing things they love like playing fetch, walking, or hunting for the fake mouse under the couch.

How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

If your obese dog or obese cat is starting to have decreased stamina and you’re ready for a change, there are some simple steps you can take to get your pet back in the best of health. Not only will you see the benefits in your pet, but you may see some benefits in your life as well!

Start a Diet

Large cat lying next to a mug of coffee

This is the first step in getting your pet back to a normal, healthy weight. It may be tempting to just decrease their food and stop feeding them treats, but this can lead to malnourishment over time! Switch your dog or cat over to a special diet food that will keep the same nutritional balance but offer fewer calories in each serving. This way they’ll still get all the supplements and nutrients they need while still dieting to lose weight.

We would always recommend that you speak to your vet for advice before changing your pet’s diet.

Workout Every Day

If your dog has been obese or overweight for a while, they may have seriously decreased stamina when it comes to working out, so don't start with a three-mile run on your first day out! Do something your pet enjoys whether that's tossing the ball around for a while, hiking around your neighborhood, or playing chase in your back garden. The more they enjoy it, the more likely they are to go along and want to do activities with you!

Take your time easing your pet into these activities. With the decreased stamina that comes alongside obesity, they'll probably tire easily. Start slow and work your way up to the more intense activity and longer sessions of play. You might find that your stamina will increase as you spend time playing and chasing your pet around the garden or house!

Choose Different Treats

It's hard to ignore those puppy dog eyes when you've got a chunk of cheese in your hand! But many dogs will also enjoy natural, healthier treats like apples, pears, and watermelon as well. Switch over to these or other high protein treats like cooked meats or specially made treats that have fewer calories but still delicious!

Routine is everything

Your dog learns a routine and responds accordingly. If you feed your pet at the same time each day, they're less likely to beg for treats or more food throughout the day. When pets don't beg, you won't feel guilt-tripped to give them more than their fair share.

Work for their Supper

Keeping your pet on a good routine is a great way to help them begin to slim down as is making them work for their supper. Find feeding tools like puzzle bowls and snuffle mats that make a dog think and work to get all of the kibbles. Working their minds is just as important as working their bodies and they'll eat slower and feel fuller if they need to work to get supper.

Regular Check-Ups with your Vet

Your vet cares about your pet's health as much as you do and they can give you tips, tricks, and advice for how to help your pet be in the best of health. Regular check-ups will help your vet keep careful track of the weight your pet is gaining and if they're at risk of obesity-related health issues. Vets and their businesses also have access to lots of different supplements and supplies to get your pet back in shape.

Paying for Pet Health

Regular vet check-ups, diet food, and specialized treats or toys can quickly add up when you're looking at the bills for the month. Good care for your pet is priceless but there are steps you can take to give your pet the best care without breaking the bank.

Invest in Pet Insurance

When you bring your furry friend home, you’ll be sure they have a nice soft bed, a quiet kennel for naps, toys aplenty, and a brand new appointment with the vet. After you’ve taken them to the vet, it’s best to invest in pet insurance to help divert some of the cost of caring for your new pet. Just like you’d insure your house, car, or belongings, you want to be sure you have a policy on your pet so that you’ll be able to have some help if accidents, illness, and procedures are needed.

Look through the Options

Your vet will be able to show you lots of different options when it comes to diet food. Some will be very expensive while others will be cheaper options that will still fit your pet’s nutritional needs. Take the time to hear all of the different options and choose a food that will work with your budget. The same is true of treats! Often cheap treats will not have the same nutritional supplements but if you shop around you can find some that fit within your plan.

Make things Homemade

Just like when we diet as humans, we often start by making food homemade instead of eating out. The same goes for your pets and your budget! You can buy a large pack of dog treats that may cost you a pretty penny, but you can also make a big batch of peanut butter treats that offer the same nutritional value but cost you much less. Work with your vet to come up with some whole-food options that you can make at home as well instead of buying in cans or bags at the store.

This can go for toys, puzzle bowls, and snuffle mats as well! The toys that will stimulate your pet's mind and make them work for their dinner don't have to be designer brands. Work with what you've got. There’s no reason to shell out hundreds of pounds on new toys that make your dog work for their food when you can make something at home without paying at all!

Stick to the Plan

When you stick to your pet's diet plan, you won't end up buying more pet food than you need. This is often your biggest expense as a pet owner. If your dog begs for food between meals and you give in, you'll end up spending twice as much on food as is needed. Stick to the schedule for meals as closely as you can for your pet's health and the health of your wallet!

Round up

Large cat

We love our pets and want the best for them! Sometimes what’s best for them means ignoring their puppy dog eyes and saying “no” when it comes to giving them a second breakfast or another chip. Obese dogs and cats have been on the rise in recent years and the unfortunate truth is that obesity can take away months or years off the life of your pet.

Obese dogs and obese cats can have serious health issues like heart disease, joint pain, and diabetes. Health issues loom large but obese pets can also be unhappy. To care for your pet in the very best way, you might need to say no more than once a day. Changing up their routine to get more exercise, cutting back on high-calorie food and treats, and making sure they go to the vet regularly is the best way to get your pet feeling happy and healthy again.

Keep your puppies or kitty giving you those big, begging eyes for years to come by getting their health and obesity under control today!