Understanding the Health Risks of Obesity

Obesity has become an epidemic for our pets. Research shows that 25 to 40 percent of dogs and cats who visit a veterinary clinic are overweight or obese. In addition, the incidence of overweight or obesity in our pets appears to be on the rise.

Obesity is a difficult condition to treat and requires awareness and commitment from both you and your veterinarian. Causes to consider:

  • Excess caloric intake
  • Inappropriate feeding practices
  • Inadequate feeding guidelines
  • Free feeding (keeping the bowl full at all times)
  • Excessive use of snacks, treats and human foods
  • Reduced activity level
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Spay/neuter

Health risks of obesity

The risk of arthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular problems, for example, can be potential medical consequences associated with pets that are obese. With this in mind, it might be necessary to adjust the amount of food you are feeding your pet in order to maintain ideal body condition.

Over-feeding may also arise if the feeding guidelines stated on the pet food label are not appropriate for your pet. Feeding errors can happen if you mistakenly use a non-standard cup to measure out the food, are simply not aware that you are over-feeding your pet, or because you perceive a good appetite as a sign of good health.

Free feeding, or keeping the bowl full at all times, may also lead to overeating, particularly if your pet is bored, inactive and has little space for exercise. Likewise, highly palatable diets encourage overeating. Snacks and treats are often inappropriately used as a way to make up for guilt, i.e., when you leave your pet alone, arrive home late from work, etc.

Another element to consider is that spaying/neutering pets has been associated with an increased risk of obesity. Hormonal changes can decrease your pet’s ability to expend energy while increasing the appetite.

Obese owners are an additional risk factor for obesity in pets. If you are unlikely to exercise, your pet may not get any exercise either, and if you consume high fat foods, table scraps you feed to your pet can cause obesity as well.

Obesity is an important nutritional health crisis affecting dogs and cats. It is recommended that you work with your veterinarian to create an appropriate weight management plan for your pet.