First-of-Its-Kind Pet Obesity Clinic Opens

Obese Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • The first of its kind pet obesity clinic opened in September at Tufts University. The clinic is staffed by three board-certified veterinary nutritionists who treat dog and cat patients and conduct pet obesity research.
  • Since the majority of veterinary nutritionists are affiliated in some way with pet food companies, our concern is with the diets these specialists will recommend to owners of overweight and obese dogs and cats. Will they even mention, much less encourage, balanced, species-appropriate raw or homemade diets?
  • If your pet is overweight and suffering from significant disease, an obesity clinic might be beneficial. If your pet is heavy but otherwise still healthy, we recommend you follow three simple strategies to diet your companion down to a good weight.

By Dr. Becker

Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine opened a pet obesity clinic in early September.

The clinic employs three board-certified veterinary nutritionists. According to Dr. Deborah Linder who runs the operation:

"By employing sound, research-proven methods, Tufts' Veterinary Obesity Clinic will help owners achieve safe and effective weight loss for their pets. While the common perception leans toward overweight pets being happy, research has proven otherwise, and we hope to effect change in the obesity epidemic among companion animals."

The clinic will treat dog and cat patients, and Dr. Linder will conduct pet obesity research there as well.

Linder believes the biggest obstacle in treating the pet obesity epidemic is that 40 percent of owners of overweight pets don't know or won't acknowledge that their dog or cat has a problem.

"What really gets me is that obesity and even [having] overweight animals is completely preventable," Linder said. "We do the best we can to help them, but it would be better to prevent." 

I'm Not Sure How I Feel About Pet Obesity Clinics...

When Dr. Linder says she'll be using "sound, research-proven methods" to achieve weight loss in pets, in terms of feeding those pets, she's referring to research funded almost exclusively by pet food manufacturers. Historically, there has been no independent funding available for the study of dog and cat nutrition, so all research is tied in some way to major players in the pet food industry.

Consequently, I'm not sure how I feel about a pet obesity clinic run by veterinary nutritionists who, if they are typical, have been indoctrinated by major pet food manufacturers. Part of this indoctrination is to embrace poor quality, mass produced commercial pet foods as appropriate nutrition for every dog and cat - even fat, sick ones.

On the one hand, there is certainly a need for more focus on the tragic and growing epidemic of obesity in pets.

But on the other hand, given the role diet plays in weight loss, obesity clinics run by advocates of biologically inappropriate food for dogs and cats doesn't seem like the right approach to tackling the problem of overweight pets.

Fortunately, the AHVM Foundation wants to assist in the development of integrative veterinary nutrition departments which can further study and delineate the applicability of species-appropriate diets. That will provide the veterinary community with unbiased pet nutrition experts with no ties to the pet food industry.

If your pet is overweight and also dealing with significant health issues as a result (for example, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroidism, respiratory problems, kidney disease, cancer), visiting a pet obesity clinic might be helpful.

However, if your pet is still in good health but overweight or even obese, I recommend starting with the following steps.

Getting Real About Your Pet's Weight

The first thing parents of overweight pets need to do is get real (to be blunt). It's not difficult to tell a fat pet from a fit one.

If your pet is a healthy weight, the following will 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 furry dependent 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

Here's a visual tool you can use to evaluate the condition of your pet's body.

Getting Your Overweight Dog or Cat in Shape

For otherwise healthy pets, the secret to weight loss involves three straightforward strategies:

  • Feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet. Skip all the commercial and prescription weight control and low fat diets. Regardless of her weight, your dog or cat still needs the right nutrition for her species, which means food that is high in animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content.
  • Take a look at the before and after pictures of my patient Cal, below. Cal was a rescue dog who arrived at his new home obese and depressed. His smart owner transitioned him to a balanced, species-appropriate raw food diet. Cal slimmed down on his own once he was eating the right kind of food.


  • Practice portion control -- usually a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right amount of calories for weight loss, controlled through the portions you feed, is what will take the weight off your dog or cat. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats.
  • Regularly exercise your pet. An overweight body gets back in shape by taking in fewer calories and expending more energy. Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.