Pet obesity is an epidemic in the United States, and excess weight can increase your pet’s risk for several serious health complications. Our Little Animal Hospital team shares statistics about pet obesity to demonstrate this serious problem, and to offer advice to help you safeguard your four-legged friend.

#1: The majority of U.S. pets are overweight

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) most recent survey, 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats are classified as clinically overweight or obese by their veterinary healthcare professional. 

#2: Pets maintained at a healthy weight live longer than overweight pets

Pets maintained at a healthy weight live about 2.5 years longer than overweight pets. Excess weight increases your pet’s risk for several serious health complications, including:

  • Hypertension — Overweight pets are more likely to have high blood pressure, which can cause complications such as kidney disease, heart disease, and retinal detachment.
  • Cancer — The chronic, low-grade inflammation produced by excess adipose tissue increases your pet’s risk for certain cancers.
  • Bladder stones — Obesity in pets has been linked to calcium oxalate bladder stones, which can enter your pet’s urethra and cause a life-threatening blockage if not removed.
  • Arthritis — Additional weight strains joints, damaging cartilage, and leading to arthritis.
  • Diabetes — Overweight pets are at higher insulin resistance and diabetes risk. Complications can include cataracts, urinary tract infections, and diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • Respiratory complications — Overweight pets are prone to breathing difficulties because of an extra fat layer that encases their chest cavity and puts them at higher risk for laryngeal paralysis and tracheal collapse.
  • Skin infection — Overweight pets can’t groom themselves well and tend to have excess skin folds that can lead to skin infections.
  • Heatstroke — The extra insulation increases an overweight pet’s risk for heatstroke, which causes excessive inflammation throughout the body.
  • Anesthesia complications — Overweight pets who undergo anesthesia are at higher risk, because they are prone to respiratory complications.

#3: Many pet owners don’t recognize their pet is overweight

While more than 50% of dogs and cats are considered overweight by their veterinarian, only about 39% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners recognize their pet’s condition. Ways to determine if your pet is overweight include:

  • Schedule an appointment — Consulting our veterinary team is the best way to determine if your pet is overweight. We can accurately assess your pet’s weight status, and devise a safe weight loss strategy, if necessary.
  • Weigh your pet — Weigh your pet about once a month to ensure they aren’t adding pounds.
  • Assess your pet’s body condition score (BCS) — Consult a BCS chart to assess your pet’s fat coverage at different body points on a nine-point scale. An ideal score is four or five. In general, you want your pet’s waist to be defined, their ribs to be easily palpable but not visible, and a non-sagging abdomen.

#4: Many pet owners overfeed their pets

A 2018 international study found that 54% of pet owners feed their begging pet, 22% of pet owners overfeed to keep their pet happy, and only 20% always measure their pet’s food. Ways to prevent overfeeding your pet include:

  • Determining your pet’s daily energy requirements — Your pet’s food label offers suggestions about meal portions, but this information is not pet-specific. Consider your pet’s weight, age, activity level, and spay or neuter status, and calculate their daily energy requirements.
  • Measuring your pet’s food — Eyeballing your pet’s meal amount can result in over or under feeding. Use a measuring cup or kitchen scale to accurately measure your pet’s meal portion.
  • Splitting your pet’s food — Ideally, your pet should eat several meals per day, so split their food into two or three portions.
  • Limiting your pet’s treats — Saying “No” to your begging pet is difficult, but do not let treats constitute more than 10% of their daily calories. Choose healthy options, such as baby carrots and snap peas, and ensure you include these treats when you tally your pet’s daily calories.
  • Avoiding people food — Many pet owners want to slip their pet a morsel or two from their plate, but this can quickly lead to overfeeding. Resist giving your pet table scraps, and ensure your friends and family members obey the house rules.

#5: Many pet owners don’t give their pet enough exercise

While dog owners are 34% more likely to get their needed exercise, about 40% of people don’t walk their dog regularly, and cat owners also tend to neglect their cat’s physical activity needs. Ways to ensure you pet gets the necessary exercise includes:

  • Schedule time — Every pet is different, but most pets need at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day. Schedule time every day to ensure you do not neglect your pet.
  • Find a new course — On outings, explore new areas to keep you and your pet interested in your surroundings.
  • Play fetch — Many dogs love a spirited game of fetch, which is an easy way to help them burn off excess energy.
  • Invest in a cat wheel — Cat wheels are a great way to encourage your cat to exercise.
  • Use a laser pointer — Most cats enjoy chasing laser pointers and wand-style toys. Switch up their toys every few days so they don’t get bored. 
  • Explore new sports — If you have an extremely active dog, consider a sport such as agility training, dock diving, or flyball.

Pet obesity is an increasing problem, but you can take steps to reduce your pet’s risk. If you would like your pet’s weight status assessed, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Little Animal Hospital, so we can ensure they are at an ideal weight and devise a safe weight-loss plan if necessary.