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Vet Talks: Obesity In Pets

Vet Talks 3 min read
Vet talks in obesity in pets

Obesity is a growing problem in the veterinary world. In a clinical survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), “56% of dogs and 60% of cats were classified as clinically overweight. That equals an estimated 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats are too heavy.” Unfortunately, because of this, many pet owners are so used to seeing overweight pets, that it has become the new ‘normal’ and healthy weight pets are seen as too thin.

The main factor causing obesity in animals is overfeeding.

Causes Of Obesity In Dogs

The main factor causing obesity in animals is overfeeding, meaning energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. Feeding calorically dense, highly palatable, high-fat diets and free-choice feeding increases the risk of obesity. Other factors that may cause obesity are hormonal problems and stress. For example, spaying/neutering can play a role in obesity because it changes the hormonal activity in the animal. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) and hyperadrenocorticism (high blood cortisone levels) are also associated with obesity. Just like people, pets can be ‘stress eaters’ too! Stresses such as lack of physical activity, loneliness, or change in the environment can cause pets to eat more and become obese.

Clinical Signs

Pets that are obese have excessive fat accumulation around the neck, over the tail-head, along the underside, and in the abdominal cavity. They may also have difficulty moving or breathing, exercise intolerance, urinary or fecal incontinence, unkempt appearance, and pressure sores.

Obesity in pets is generally measured by the “Body Condition Score” (BCS). This scale is either rated out of 5 or out of 9 with a BCS of 5/5 or 9/9 being extremely or morbidly obese. The ideal BCS of pets is 3/5 or 5/9


If a pet is eating an appropriate diet and amount but is still obese, tests can rule out certain causes. Dogs can be tested for hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease and cats can be tested for liver disease and diabetes.


  • Increased risk of surgery – If the animal needs surgery, he/she will need a higher dose of anesthesia, and some organs may be covered by fat making the surgical approach difficult, depending on the type of surgery required.
  • Increased pressure on the heart, lungs, kidney, and joints – The organs need to work harder and are more stressed trying to maintain the animal’s bulk.
  • Joint diseases, such as arthritis – Obesity can put undue stress on the joints.
  • Development of respiratory problems
  • Diabetes – Obesity can be a factor for animals to develop diabetes. Once diabetes is acquired, it cannot be cured and can lead to blindness and other problems.
  • Increased blood pressure can lead to heart problems
  • A weak immune system


  • When knowing that the animal is obese, it is important to observe how often he/she is being fed and the quantity of the meal.
  • Nutritionists claim that the dog that is accustomed to eating a certain amount of food will probably continue to eat the same amount, so it is important that there is a decrease in the calorie content of the food and not in the quantity.
  • Instead of giving large amounts of food all at once, it is best to give smaller, more frequent amounts of food.
  • Feed the food that you have the energy knowledge, or else, feeding it with diet food will help greatly in the fight against obesity.
  • Avoid treats. If you would like to give treats to your dog, find out the exact calorie content of the treat and adjust the normal meal accordingly.
  • Be sure your pet receives adequate water intake.
  • Exercise regularly. Hiking, running, playing fetch or for cats, chasing toys or laser pointers.
  • Have your veterinarian supervise your pet through a weight loss program and check progress monthly.
  • Once your pet has reached their goal weight, speak with your veterinarian to reformulate their diet to help them maintain a healthy weight.
  • If obesity is associated with hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism, begin treatment of these conditions as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Turmeric has been shown to suppress fat tissue growth, it can be very helpful in the fight against obesity.

    It is in your pet’s best interest to remain a healthy weight. If you are having difficulty guiding your pet through their weight loss journey, NHV can help. Our pet experts can provide a nutritional assessment and even formulate a custom diet recipe that focuses on healthy weight loss.

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Dr. Nascimento will be hosting her own blog series and sharing her knowledge with our extended NHV family.

Published: September 14, 2018

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