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What You Don't Know About Dog/Cat Obesity Could Kill Your Furry Friend

Jane Harrell specializes in helping pet-focused businesses connect to their clients, enhance customer loyalty and become industry leaders – all while making a tangible difference for pets and their families. Prior to becoming President o...

Let's stop calling fat pets cute and focus on their health instead

Does your dog boast a big booty? What about a bit of a muffin top where the waist should be? When you’re petting him, is it really hard to count his ribs without pressing deeply? If you answered yes to any of these, your dog’s likely overweight. (Find out other signs of dog and cat obesity.) While some people do love to remark, “Oh look how fat and cute he is!” at fleshy Fidos, obesity can pose a serious problem to our pets’ health and well-being. And the problem is spreading.

More: Leaky Gut Syndrome Doesn't Just Occur in Humans — Your Dog Is Affected Too

In a winter 2016 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “53.9% of dogs and 58.9% of cats were classified as overweight (body condition score, aka BCS 4) or obese (BCS 5) by their veterinary healthcare professional.” That’s approximately 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats! The numbers of overweight pets have been steadily increasing for at least the last four years.

Find out more about the survey’s results below and then read about why pet obesity matters and what you can do about it.

Disease in your obese pet

Remember, obesity is not simply about weight. Obesity is about excessive fat storage on your pet and the physiological and biological impact it can have on the rest of the body.

Obesity has been linked to a number of diseases and disorders in cats and dogs. According to PetCoach veterinarian, Dr. Sara Farmer, these disease and disorders are various and include:

  • Diabetes: Overweight cats more often develop insulin resistance than normal weight cats. This can eventually lead to a diabetes diagnosis. Dogs, too, are at risk for diabetes, although it doesn’t seem to be as closely related to obesity as it is in cats. (Find out five early warning signs for diabetes in cats and diabetes in dogs.)
  • Joint and mobility issues: Extra weight places extra force (and extra work) on the musculoskeletal system. Over time, this can lead to arthritis, chronic pain and systemic inflammation.
  • Respiratory disease: Muscles help lift the ribcage so the lungs can fully expand and take in the necessary air. With more weight on the chest, it becomes increasingly difficult for this process to happen. Less oxygen in the system can make for more medical problems than any pet parent would like to see their pet go through, like Pickwickian syndrome or a collapsed trachea.
  • Urinary issues: Feline lower urinary tract disease is commonly correlated with obesity. Obese female dogs can develop excessive folds around their genitals that make them prone to frequent urinary tract infections and can potentially require surgery.

The good news is that all of these diseases can be prevented or treated — and some even reversed — with weight loss. Read Farmer’s entire article on the "Most Common Diseases Associated With Pet Obesity" for more information on each.

More: 9 of Your Most Pressing Dog Health Questions Answered

What is considered obese?

Even though over half of cats and dogs are overweight or obese, a whopping 81 percent of pet parents still believe their pet is at a normal weight according to the APOP survey. Are you in denial about your pet’s weight? (Most of us are).

One of the major challenges with identifying whether your pet is or is not obese is that determining qualifications vary depending on breed and size. Fifty pounds on an adult lab looks vastly different than 50 pounds on an adult beagle and poses different health risks too.

Your vet will probably use a body condition score to assess your pet’s physique. These are more descriptors than hard numbers to consider (like when we calculate BMI in humans).

Familiarize yourself with the nine body condition score descriptors for an at-home assessment.

Prevention is the best medicine

Be sure to talk to your vet about your pet's weight and check out these tips for preventing your pet from putting on the pounds (like how to calculate your pet’s energy requirement for the day) plus these 10 tips to fight pet obesity.

If your pet is tipping the scales, check out these tips for helping them slim down: "6 Ways to Slim Down Your Tubby Tabby" and "5 Ways to Help Your Dog Lose Weight." It could reverse disease and save their life.

Do you have a question about your pet’s weight? Ask the experts at PetCoach below.

More: Do You Need to Worry About BPA Levels in Dogs?

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