As 2018 begins, many of us are resolving to lose weight and get in shape for the new year. Should we be resolving to help our pets shed some pounds too? Apparently, the answer is yes. According to a 2016 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53.9% of dogs and 58.9% of cats in the United States are clinically overweight or obese.1 Those numbers are on the rise, and many owners don’t even realize that their pet is too heavy.2
So, more than half of all cats and dogs in the U.S. are overweight. What’s the big deal? Just as it does for humans, obesity can lead to numerous health problems for animals and shorten your pet’s lifespan. I’m coming from personal experience, here; our fifteen-year-old family dog, Samson, is diabetic as a result of being overweight. He’s in shape now, but it’s too late. Samson now has to have insulin injections twice daily along with a special prescription diet and frequent vet visits for blood tests and health monitoring. This isn’t the quality of life that he deserves, and it’s cost my family thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses as well as great emotional strife. What really hurts is that this was completely preventable.
Some common conditions caused by obesity in cats and dogs include:
• Heart failure
• Bladder/urinary tract disease
• Liver disease
• Kidney disease
And many, many more.
While many of the negative effects of obesity can be reversed by getting your pet to lose some weight, not all of the damage can be undone. Experts from petMD explain that some of the damage being overweight does to your pet’s body and organs is permanent and can only be mitigated, not erased, through proper diet and exercise.3 The longer an animal carries around extra weight, the worse toll it will take on their health, so it’s important to get pets in shape and keep them in shape as quickly as possible.
How can you tell if your pet is overweight? You should be able to easily feel your cat or dog’s ribs and spine when your pet is standing, and the animal’s waist should curve in a bit in a slight “hourglass” shape.4 If you can’t feel your pet’s ribs or their midsection no longer curves inward, it’s time to visit the vet to discuss your pet’s weight.
If your pet is overweight, you should talk to a veterinarian to come up with a safe diet and exercise plan to help them shed some pounds and get healthy. However, prevention is the real key. Here are some tips for keeping your pets in shape:
1. Watch what your pet eats. You should feed a high quality pet food. Check nutrition labels and know that not all pet food is created equal. Just like human food, some animal chow is more processed and contains high amounts of fat and sugar. Some brands of pet chow are more like junk food than an actual balanced diet! Your veterinarian should be able to recommend a good diet for your pet.
2. Don’t give too many treats. It’s perfectly fine to show affection or reward good
behavior with a treat from time to time, but beware the risks of feeding treats too often. You can also select healthy treat options (check those nutrition labels!) at the pet store, and avoid giving your pet table scraps no matter how cute those puppy dog eyes are.
3. Make sure your pet is getting enough exercise. A short walk here and there just isn’t enough. Your pet should be exercising daily. For Fido, that might mean going for a jog or playing fetch in the backyard. For cats, playtime with a feather wand or other interactive toy can provide the exercise they need.
Although this article is primarily about cats and dogs, all pets from goldfish to parrots can suffer the ill effects of obesity. Our pets can’t open the fridge on their own; it’s up to us to make sure they’re getting the right nutrition, not overeating, and getting plenty of exercise. Keeping your pet in shape will help ensure that they live a long, healthy, and happy life with you.
Citations and Further Reading:
1. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention,
2. Kraft, Amy. “U.S. Pet Obesity Rate Continues to Rise.” CBS News, 12 Jan. 2016,
3. "Long-term Effects of Obesity on Pets." petMD,