Shrug This Off... And Your Pet Could Become a Disease Magnet

Overweight Cat

Story at-a-glance

  • The 2013 “fat pet” study results are in, and the news isn’t good. Over half of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Cats account for 57 percent of fat pets, with dogs coming in second at 53 percent.
  • As in past years, the 2013 study conducted by the Association for the Prevention of Pet Obesity (APOP) suggests a stunning disconnect in owners of overweight and obese dogs and cats. A reported 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners felt their pet was a normal weight. This “fat gap” is considered by experts to be a key factor in the epidemic of pet obesity.
  • Excess weight puts pets at risk for the same diseases seen in overweight humans, including arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, and shortened life span. Obesity is also linked to cancer in pets.
  • If your pet is a healthy weight, you should be able to feel (but not see) his ribs, see a waistline when you look at him from above, and notice a tuck in his abdomen when you look at him from the side.
  • If your pet is overweight or obese, it’s important to begin a program today to get her safely down to a normal weight by feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet, practicing portion control, and insuring your dog or cat gets adequate exercise.

By Dr. Becker

Today, October 8th, is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. And there's good reason to have a day dedicated to bringing attention to the epidemic of overweight and obese pets. The results are in for 2013, and an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese.


  • 30 percent of cats are overweight, and another 27 percent are obese, which means nearly 60 percent of U.S. cats are too heavy. That's 55 million overweight and 26 million obese cats out of a total of about 96 million pet cats.
  • An estimated 36 percent of dogs are overweight, and another 17 percent are obese, for a total of 53 percent of the dog population. In round numbers, that's about 44 million overweight and 14 million obese dogs out of 83 million pet dogs.

Sadly, these trends reflect the problem of obesity in the human population. According to 2010 CDC numbers, approximately 68 percent of American adults – 148 million -- are overweight or obese.

If there's any good news, it's that 2013 numbers are essentially flat to 2012 numbers, so at least the number of overweight and obese pets didn't increase.

Majority of Owners of Fat Pets Remain Clueless

Veterinarians who assessed pets for the 2013 Association for the Prevention of Pet Obesity (APOP) study classified about half as overweight or obese. However, the owners of these pets seemed to have no clue, since 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners thought their pet was a normal weight.

APOP calls this phenomenon the "fat gap," and feels it is a primary factor in the epidemic of pet obesity. Part of the owners' knowledge gap is in understanding how much food to feed their pets each day. According to APOP board member Dr. Joe Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and internist who heads the Small Animal Clinical Sciences department at University of Tennessee Knoxville's College of Veterinary Medicine:

"There's an entire nation of pet owners who are loving their pets to death with too many calories and not enough exercise. They are in the dark that their pets are overweight and that a host of diseases can arise as a result."

Excess weight puts pets at risk for a variety of diseases, including:

OsteoarthritisRespiratory disease
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetesCranial cruciate ligament injury
High blood pressureKidney disease
Heart diseaseDecreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)

Obesity → Cancer Link in Pets

In addition to the serious diseases listed above, obesity is also linked to many forms of cancer in pets. And in fact, caloric restriction has been shown to prevent and delay the progression of tumor development across species.

There is a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation and oxidative stress – all factors in obesity – and cancer. Certainly, the increase in cancer rates among dogs and cats is in part attributable to the obesity epidemic.

Overfeeding your pet is not a loving thing to do. Food is no substitute for quality time spent with your dog or cat. And keep in mind that fat doesn't just sit on your pet's body harmlessly. It produces inflammation that can promote tumor development.

So… Is Your Pet Overweight or Obese?

If you're not sure if your pet is too heavy, you can find weight guidelines at Pet Obesity Prevention.

The body condition of dogs and cats is assessed on a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese. A pet at a healthy size will fall in the middle of the range at 4 to 5. If your pet is a normal weight and in good physical shape, you'll be able to feel his ribs, but not see them. You should be able to see your pet's waistline when you look down at him, and notice a tuck in the abdomen when you look at him from the side.

If your dog or cat is too heavy, begin a program to get her safely down to a healthy weight. No single thing you can do for your four-legged family member is more important than what and how much you feed her.

These three common sense guidelines are all you really need:

  • Feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet to your pet. 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.
  • Practice portion control -- usually a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A moisture-rich, 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.

More information for cat owners: Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat

For dog owners: How to Help Your Chunky Dog Release Excess Pounds


+ Sources and References

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