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This Alarming Condition Has Now Escalated for 5 Years in a Row — What’s Going On?

obese dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • New statistics from Nationwide show that more than $54 million in claims for pet conditions related to pet obesity are filed annually, but it’s increased by 10 percent over the past two years
  • Cats and dogs end up with many different serious health conditions related to overweight; the most common is arthritis for dogs, and overweight cats often wind up with bladder or urinary tract disease
  • There are easy ways to find out how your dog or cat measures up, weight-wise. One is to look at them from the top, or from the side, and look for specific markers that are dead giveaways to pet obesity
  • Making a New Year’s resolution to help your pet get in shape by monitoring their food intake and introducing a simple exercise regimen will not only make him healthier, as a result he’ll be happier, and you may even save his life

By Dr. Becker

What do most people decide to do right around the time New Year's Eve rolls around? They resolve to lose weight, right? It's probably the most frequent (and most fervent) resolution made every year.

But what if it's your dog or cat (or both) needing the weight loss? The problem with this is, pets aren't in a position to think in those terms, and they probably wouldn't feel it was a pressing issue, anyway!

But it actually is a pressing matter. That's where you, the loving pet owner, need to step in, because Nationwide Insurance, the first and largest insurance company to insure pets, has some alarming statistics.

Not only has pet obesity escalated for five years in a row, more than $54 million in insurance claims for pet conditions and diseases related to pet obesity are made annually.1 Interestingly, obese dogs' problems with arthritis improve with every pound of weight they lose.

What's more, the trend has swung upward by 10 percent over the past two years. Dr. Carol McConnell, Nationwide's vice president and chief veterinary medical officer, notes that there's no time like the present:

"The New Year presents a perfect opportunity to create regular exercise routines for our pets and begin to effectively manage their eating habits to avoid obesity. Regular wellness visits to your veterinarian are the most effective way to monitor your pet's weight, along with being aware of signs of weight gain."2

The Most Common Weight Related Health Problems for Dogs and Cats

Too much body fat isn't good for humans, and it's not good for animals, either. Not only does it drive up the risk of dying from a preventable disease, it shortens the lifespan of your overweight pets.

Pet insurance statistics3 show that the most common disease related to overweight dogs is arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis. Treatment fees averaged $292 per dog, totaling 42,000 pet insurance claims in 2014 for this problem alone.

Cats with bladder or urinary tract disease related to obesity were the reason for 4,700 insurance claims.

While there weren't as many claims compared to dogs, the cost was $424 per animal, nearly a 50 percent increase over the cost of treating dogs with arthritis. Other common physical problems dogs develop when they're overweight are:

Bladder/urinary tract disease

Low thyroid
hormone production

Liver disease

Torn knee ligaments


Diseased spinal disc



Chronic kidney disease

Heart failure

The most prevalent obesity-related conditions in cats are:

Chronic kidney disease


Liver disease


High blood pressure

Heart failure

Gall bladder disorder


Spine immobility

Dr. McConnell added:

"Excessive weight gain can create detrimental health problems in our pets. Pet owners need to be aware of the quality and amount of food or treats they give their furry family members."

How Do You Know If Your Pet Is Overweight?

Pet Education4 provides a chart with body scores to give you an idea of what your dog or cat should look like, weight-wise — and what they shouldn't. On a 9-point scale, it's merely a guideline because some animals' body styles are completely different, as in the contrast between greyhounds and bulldogs.

Generally speaking, if you look at your pet from above and see there's no waistline to speak of, or the area between her ribs and hips is wider than her hips or ribs, she's considered grossly overweight.

From the side, both dogs and cats should have a healthy physique, evidenced by something called "abdominal tuck;" the profile behind her ribs should be smaller in diameter than her chest. Again, it will vary between breeds, but keep in mind that overweight or obese animals have no abdominal tuck.

If it's clear your dog or cat fits into this category, the first thing you should do is contact a holistic veterinarian who will help you determine not only what your pet weighs but what he or she should weigh.

A holistic vet will practice methods of integrative medicine for intervention. Don't stick your pet on "diet" food with sketchy ingredients. There are several simple ways to keep your dog or cat happy and healthy while keeping him at a healthy weight:

  • Avoid feeding your pet processed-food scraps from the table
  • Keep a consistent diet by monitoring the amount of food you give your pet, using a standard measure to make sure it's the right amount
  • Regulate the amount — and how often — you dispense treats
  • Begin and maintain a fun, healthy exercise schedule.

Rather than buying "low-fat diet" food for your pet, make your own nutritious, high-quality pet food at home. You'll know what he's actually eating — not a bunch of carbohydrates, sugar, animal parts or genetically engineered kibbles, but food that meets his nutritional needs based on the ancestral diet of his species.