Obesity in pets has become more common in recent years. According to Veterinary Medicine journal, approximately 30 to 40 percent of dogs and cats are overweight or obese. This growing problem is directly related to a combination of excessive dietary intake and inadequate energy utilization, meaning pets are eating too much and exercising too little.
If your cat or dog has put on some extra pounds, the excess weight may be affecting their health. Compared to cats and dogs of an ideal weight, pets diagnosed as overweight or obese are at a higher risk of suffering from serious conditions. Similar to how excess weight can cause health problems for humans, obese cats and dogs are more likely to suffer from liver disease, arthritis, bladder problems, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Pets enjoy a life of running, climbing, and playing. Maintaining an ideal body weight enables dogs and cats to achieve optimal speed, energy, and agility. Learn more about the impact of obesity on cats and dogs and how to help your pet lose weight and maintain good health.
Is Your Pet Overweight or Obese?
Some pet owners are not aware of their pet’s weight problem or may not believe that their pet is obese. Although it can look cute to have an extra-squishy cat or a few additional rolls on a dog, obesity can cause or exacerbate serious diseases that impact your pet’s wellbeing.
Obesity is defined as an accumulation of excess body fat. However, just because your cat or dog has some extra body fat does not necessarily mean they are obese. The ideal weight is relative based on the animal’s age, breed, body type, and metabolism.
To determine if your pet is overweight, ask your vet. Most vets use body condition scoring systems, such as the 1-95 point scale (“1” being the thinnest and “95” being obese), to determine where your pet stands.
Some signs may indicate that your pet is obese. Stand over your pet from above. Does your pet have a defined waist? If not, she may be overweight. Run your hands along the animal’s sides. Can you easily feel the ribs or do you have to push hard to feel them? Does your pet have a sagging stomach? These are signs that your pet may be obese.
What are the Health Consequences of Pet Obesity?
Extensive evidence has shown that excess adipose (fat) tissue in cats and dogs is associated with a variety of health conditions. Some of these illnesses and diseases include:
- Chronic Inflammation – It’s not always clear to pet owners how excess fat may be affecting their cat or dog. Obese pets often have an internal battle going on due to a surge of adipokines. Adipokines are signal proteins produced by fat tissue that are known to cause or contribute to inflammatory processes within the body. This means that these excess fat cells are generating toxic compounds.
- Osteoarthritis – There is a direct link between pet obesity and osteoarthritis (OA). Over time, the joints of overweight or obese pets become overloaded, and the cartilage breaks down. OA is also worsened by oxidative stress and the activation of inflammatory compounds.
- Reduced Life Expectancy – Pets who maintain an ideal weight are more likely to live a longer life than pets who are overweight or obese. Research provided by Banfield Pet Hospital found that the lifespan of overweight dogs was 2.5 years shorter, on average, than the lifespan of dogs with healthy body weight.
- High Blood Pressure – Although the link between high blood pressure and obesity is still not fully understood, many veterinary researchers believe that excess body fat can cause or contribute to hypertension in cats and dogs. The heart in obese pets is forced to work overtime to pump blood to the extra fat tissues. Over time, hypertension can damage the heart, brain, and kidneys.
- Cancer – Current research shows that overweight cats and dogs are at a greater risk for cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that pet obesity and physical inactivity may account for up to 30 percent of major cancers. The cause of these cancers is typically related to the presence of estrogens and estrogen-like compounds, chronic inflammation, and insulin and growth factors.
- Respiratory Disease – Obesity can result in respiratory problems in pets due to the presence of excess fat within the chest wall and abdomen, which compresses the lungs, decreasing the amount of air breathed in. With respiratory disease, your pet may struggle to catch its breath and may experience abnormal breathing patterns.
- Kidney Disease – Dogs and cats that develop hypertension due to weight problems can also experience kidney disease. Hypertension directly affects the kidneys as the kidneys receive a large portion of the blood pumped by the heart. Obese pets often have higher levels of hyaluronic acid (HA) in their kidneys which can cause damage to the kidneys and other issues, such as water retention.
- Diabetes – Diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s ability to process glucose, a type of sugar that acts as the main source of fuel for the body’s cells and tissues. Diabetes impacts the body’s ability to produce insulin, resulting in dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood that can cause serious health problems, such as a shortened lifespan.
Weight Management in Cats and Dogs
Proper weight management in cats and dogs requires pet owners to feed a healthy diet low in carbohydrates. Also, remember that pet food labels are just a general guideline of how much to feed your pet. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, ask your vet to recommend a portion amount and meal schedule based on your pet’s unique needs. Limit the number of treats you feed your pet and avoid giving your pet human food. Most importantly, stay consistent with a healthy diet and exercise routine based on your pet’s age, breed, and activity level.