Pet Obesity - Causes & Prevention

Causes of Pet Obesity

Certainly there are age and breed related causes to weight gain but generally speaking, obesity occurs when the body consumes to may calories for what the body actually uses. The end result is excess calories that will be stored and will inevitably cause weight gain. So when presented with a pet that is overweight it is important to evaluate the daily caloric intake (How many calories are in each cup of the food? How many calories are in the treats you pet receives? Etc.) and the caloric expenditure (How much exercise does you pet get? How long and often is your dog walked? What types of exercise does your cat get at home?). If the intake is greater than the expenditure, then caloric excess will result.

Now sometimes the weight gain is unexplained by the owner. For example, a dog that suddenly gains weight but the daily routine has not changed: No change in diet or amounts fed, no changes in treats, no changes in exercise, etc.). When a patients presents to us with something similar, we will evaluate possible medical causes to the weight gain such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease that may be interfering with your pets regular metabolism and physiology.

Health Risks Associated with Obesity

The most common pet obesity associated conditions are:
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis and Other Joint Disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure

A study was performed by Purina in 2002 where they evaluated 48 Labrador Retrievers and half of the dogs where able to eat more than their requirement while their littermate consumed 25% less. The study began at 8 weeks of age and found that the dogs that consumed less lived longer and had delayed onset of signs of chronic disease in these dogs.

What can you do at home?

  • Say no to unhealthy snacks: Did you know 1 oz of cheddar cheese is the equivalent of 2.5 and 3.5 hamburgers for dogs and cats respectively. Examples of low calorie snacks include Medi-cal Medi-Treats®, Hill’s Prescription Diet Treats®, Carrots, Green beans or even small amounts of apple.
  • Adjust or increase your pets playfulness: Hide kibble or treats in a toy to increase mental stimulation and even help burn calories. If your pet loves to play fetch definitely take advantage of that as it is not only a great mental exercise but also will consume many calories. Also, place treats around your environment to allow for your cat to “hunt” down those treats - he/she will love that!
  • Keep a weight diary for your pet: Sometimes small changes in weight may not be visible on your pet so it is important to weigh and document the weight every few months at a minimum. Sooner if your pet is on a weight control program. You can easily weight your cat or small dog at home, but for larger dogs you should make a visit to your vet so that you may use their scale. Most veterinary hospitals will actually encourage this.

In any case, it is important to consult your veterinary team as they have the knowledge and resources to make weight loss and control a success!