In one important area for dogs and their owners—their weight—the answer is too much so. A recent study out of The Netherlands published in Public Health Nutrition reveals that people who have overweight dogs are more likely to be overweight themselves.
However, overweight cats don’t necessarily have overweight human companions.
Does your four-legged companion have a weight problem?
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), there’s a 50-50 chance your pet is among the 33 million dogs and 51 million cats that are overweight or obese.
That’s right – half the dogs and cats in the U.S. are too heavy to be healthy.
This statistic goes hand-in-hand with the meteoric rise in human obesity. Obesity rates in the U.S. are among the highest in the world. Sixty-four percent of adults and 25 percent of children in America are overweight or obese.
Per Dr. Ernie Ward, founder and president of APOP:
"Pudgy pooches and fat cats are now the norm. This is the first generation of pets that will not live as long as their parents. Even worse, the majority of today's overweight pets will endure painful and expensive medical conditions -- all of which can be avoided. We're loving our pets to an early -- and painful -- death."
Risk Factors for Pet Obesity
- Breed. Specific breeds of dogs are more apt to be overweight than others, including Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Dalmatians, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Shetland Sheepdogs and mixed breeds.
- Gender. Neutered dogs of both sexes are twice as likely to be overweight as intact dogs. Male cats are genetically predisposed to become heavy, and the risk increases if your male kitty is neutered.
- Age. The risk of overweight increases as your dog or cat gets up in years.
- Activity level. Lack of sufficient exercise increases the risk of obesity in your pet.
- Diet and feeding habits. Pet food high in carbohydrates and fats is the biggest cause of obesity in both dogs and cats. Too many treats is also a problem, as is an “all-day-buffet” feeding schedule in which your pet’s bowl is kept constantly full.
Knowledge of these risk factors can give you the information you need to help your beloved dog or cat maintain a normal weight and good health.
For example, in order for your male, neutered, 6-year old Rottweiler to stay fit and healthy, it’s crucial that he gets a balanced, species-appropriate diet and adequate daily exercise.
How Do You View Your Pet’s Weight?
As more and more companion animals grow overweight, it seems pet owner perception of what constitutes a healthy size for their pet is becoming distorted.
Increasing numbers of pet parents are viewing too-heavy cats and dogs as being a normal, healthy weight. According to APOP, a third of dog owners and almost half of cat owners view their overweight pets as being a normal size.
If your dog is a large breed, you’re even more apt to look at a too-heavy weight as normal. Almost half of all Labrador and Golden Retrievers are overweight or obese, and almost half of all Retriever parents incorrectly view their dog’s weight as normal.
If your female Labrador Retriever is of normal build and weighs 90 pounds, in human terms she’s as heavy as a 5 foot 4 inch woman who weighs 186 pounds.
If your tiny Yorkie weighs in at 12 pounds, now you’re looking at 223 pounds on that same 5 foot 4 inch woman.
An average build cat weighing 15 pounds is equivalent to a 225 pound 5 foot 9 inch man. If you put five more pounds on that 15-pound cat, it’s the same as putting another 75 pounds on the 5 foot 9 inch man. Each pound on a cat is the equivalent of 13 to 15 pounds on a human.
In short, it’s important for pet owners to understand the implications of just a few extra pounds on a dog or cat.
As a general rule, your pet is at a healthy weight if the following factors apply:
- Ribs and spine are easily felt
- There is a waist when viewed from above
- Abdomen is raised and not sagging when viewed from the side
Your dog or cat is overweight or obese if:
- You cannot feel the ribs or spine beneath fat deposits; fat deposits extend to the chest, tail base and hindquarters
- The waist is distended or pear shaped when viewed from above
- The abdomen sags when viewed from the side
- The chest and abdomen appear distended or swollen
If you’re not sure whether your pet is overweight, you should consult your veterinarian. Together you can determine what your dog’s or cat’s ideal weight should be, and the best way to help your pet achieve and maintain a healthy size.
You can also take a look at this matrix to see general weight ranges for most dog breeds.
How Overweight and Obesity Can Ruin Your Pet’s Health
Common health problems seen in overweight and obese dogs and cats include:
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Joint problems, osteoarthritis
- Respiratory disorders
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Kidney and liver problems
Our companion animals can’t tell us when they don’t feel well or are in pain. Often, we don’t realize a pet is sick until the situation is very serious or even life-threatening.
Veterinary expenses for a serious or chronic condition can be very costly. By keeping your dog or cat fit and healthy, you can dramatically reduce the risk of a serious illness which could damage your pet’s health and wreak havoc on your finances.
My Pet is Too Heavy – What Can I Do About It?
The best way to keep your pet healthy is to prevent him from becoming fat in the first place. If you’re sure your dog or cat is at a normal size right now, do everything necessary to help him maintain a healthy weight.
Consider all risk factors that apply to your pet, and make necessary adjustments to keep his weight in check as he grows to adulthood, moves into his senior years, or has other lifestyle changes that affect his health or activity level.
For those of you with overweight pets, it’s time to take action.
- If you’re giving your dog or cat regular pet treats, be aware that pre-packaged commercial treats are a primary reason for excess weight in many pets.
These snacks are loaded with carbs, sugar and fat and are specifically designed to create intense cravings in your dog or cat.
According to Dr. Ward of APOP, giving a premium pig ear to your 40-pound dog is the equivalent of you sitting down to a snack of six 12-ounce cans of soda.
“Even a single, small dog bone treat given to a 10-pound dog is no different than a person eating two chocolate doughnuts,” says Ward. “The truth is, we rarely stop at one dog treat. Give a few each day and you’ve fed the equivalent of a dozen doughnuts.”
Click here for a list of popular dog treats and their caloric content.
- If you’re the parent of an overweight canine, review APOP’s general information sheet for weight reduction in dogs for some excellent tips and guidelines for getting your too-heavy pooch down to a healthy size.
- You should feed your pup a balanced, species-appropriate diet and make sure she’s getting a minimum of 20 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic exercise every day.
- If it’s a feline member of your household that needs to slim down, review my video and Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat.
Obesity in dogs and cats is an escalating, dangerous trend.
There’s not a single more important step you can take for your pet’s longevity and quality of life than to help your best furry friend achieve and maintain a healthy weight.