Obesity, Pets, and Nutrition

Dr. Jeff Werber discusses rotund pets, poor diets, and what you can do to get your pet back on the right track. For more from Dr. Werber, find him on Facebook or on his website at www.drjeff.com.

Just curious—how many of you have dogs or cats that help themselves to the cookie jar to grab those delicious chocolate chunk cookies or even their own yummy treats? How about the freezer to munch on that Haagen Dazs straight out of the container (as I do!!)?

Well, given how we often like to think that our pets mimic our personalities and behaviors, it should come as no surprise that obesity is the most common nutritional disorder affecting dogs and cats in the United States! In fact, it has been estimated that up to 50% of dogs and cats in this country are overweight or, worse yet, obese. Though many would like to blame this on some obscure metabolic disorder, the fact is that obesity in our pets is a result of the same simple practice that leads to our own obesity—eating too much and exercising too little! We are what we eat, and so too are our pets! The difference is we are in absolute control of what we stuff into our own mouths, our pets, however, don’t have that power—they have to rely on us for what is “stuffed” into their mouths!

Obesity is defined as an accumulation of excess body fat resulting in body weights over 15% of optimum. This condition can potentially impair the health, quality of life and life span of affected pets. There is an increased incidence of obesity with aging and after both spaying and neutering. This is likely associated with changes and reductions in metabolic rate and physical activity. Starting healthy choices young is especially important as 70% of obese puppies and kittens grow up to be obese dogs and cats!

Some breeds of dogs like Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Welsh Corgis, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles seem to be genetically predisposed to excessive weight gain. Though not nearly as common as we would like to think, there are a few disease conditions in animals that may be associated with excess weight gain, such as hypothyroidism, which is an undersecretion of the thyroid gland; hyperadrenocorticism (also known as Cushing's Syndrome), an over secretion of the adrenal gland. Overweight dogs are often predisposed to a variety of conditions such as joint and locomotor problems, ruptured cruciate ligaments, dyspnea characterized by a shortness of breath, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, impaired reproductive efficiency, problems during whelping, increased incidence of diabetes mellitus, as well as an increased incidence of certain cancers.

Disease conditions in cats that may be associated with excessive body weight include respiratory and cardiovascular disease, joint and mobility problems, nonallergic skin conditions, impaired reproductive efficiency, and problems during queening.

Unfortunately, as with most of us, it is a lot easier to put the weight on than it is to take it off. Helping our pets lose weight is often quite a challenge. Pet owner compliance is essential to a successful weight reduction program. Prior to initiation of a weight control program, your overweight animal should have a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian. An ideal goal for weight loss is approximately 1% of current body weight per week, or approximately 3.5 to 4% per month. Cats should be monitored closely because rapid weight loss can lead to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially fatal fatty infiltration of the liver.

Although a dog or cat on a weight reduction program should receive a restricted amount of calories, they still need optimal amounts of other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. Weight loss may actually increase the need for these nutrients. An increased level of dietary fibers, may reduce the rate of digestion and absorption, and may assist in increasing the level of satiety—the perception of not being hungry—in the dieting pet. For an effective weight loss program, the basic goal is to reduce caloric intake and increase exercise. Ideally, with the help of your veterinarian, you want to determine your pet’s caloric intake at its optimal weight, and for reduction you want to feed only 60 to 65% of that number. Trust me—it's easier said than done!! If you need a little help, speak to your veterinarian about some weight management diets and supplements, and even a new weight loss medication to help your pets in their quest to shed those unwanted pounds.

So, to summarize, try to keep a closer watch on what you had your pet to nibble one, making healthy choices for yourself and your pet can lead to a happier and longer life. Remember the importance of exercise, starting slowly and easing into a daily routine. A happy and healthy pet is a lean pet!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

How Can I Help My Dog Get to a Healthy Weight?

If your veterinarian determines that your dog is overweight or obese, Cline says to expect a lifestyle change not only for your pet, but also for you. Accordingly, a thorough weight management program should include the following components:


"Ensuring meals are portioned correctly and that treats are not overfed is essential," Cline explains. This has gotten especially tricky as dogs have shifted from pets to full-fledged family members during recent years. Dog owners commonly use treats (including sometimes harmful human foods) as a way to show affection, but this mindset can cause pets to pack on pounds. When visiting with your vet about what your dog eats, be honest about treats. They can add significant calories, and if you withhold that information, your veterinarian won't have an accurate representation of what your dog is really consuming on a daily basis. And as a result, their recommendations will be flawed.


Exercise also plays an important role, says Cline. Your veterinarian can make recommendations tailored to your dog's ability and weight loss needs. If you have to start limiting treats, consider exercise and play your new way of showing affection. The beauty of living with dogs is that time with you is typically their favorite treat.


A weight management program isn't a one-and-done appointment. According to Cline, pet owners should expect regular weigh-ins and diet plan adjustments, when necessary. These will ensure that the plan is truly working and will keep it as effective as possible.


Helping your pet lose weight will be a slow process, and that's OK. "I often remind owners that we are not on a weight loss game show," explains Cline. "Weight loss should not be rapid. We are typically aiming for 1 to 2 percent body weight loss per week."

New study reveals COVID-19 pandemic fueling pet obesity

While the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted everyday life this year, it's also taken a toll on our furry best friends' eating habits, activity level and weight that could affect their quality of life. Insights from a new survey from Hill's Pet Nutrition, conducted in partnership with Kelton Global, reveal that while overweight pets and pet obesity has been on the rise for years, Covid-19 has intensified this issue. According to veterinarians, more than 71% of pet professionals say the pandemic has impacted the way pets eat.

Since the start of Covid-19, one third (33%) of pet parents with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic. While a majority of pet parents (73%) say they would feel confident in knowing their pet is overweight without professional guidance, veterinarians state that only 12% of pet parents proactively flag concerns with their pet's weight. Moreover, nearly two in three veterinarians say pet parents act surprised (64%) or defensive (64%) upon learning about their pet's weight issues.

With people spending more time at home over the last nine months, treats are often given as a form of love, with more than half (53%) of pet parents saying they've been giving their pets treats for no reason. Now with the holiday season in full swing, it's likely going to get worse before it gets better, with nearly 64% of pet parents admitting they spoil their dog or cat during the holidays. As a result, six in ten veterinarians say they anticipate the dogs and cats they see in January are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Knowing that pet parents admit to spoiling their pets around the holidays, making people more aware of this change in behavior could help to manage their pet's weight problems. Approximately 36% of pet parents say their pet normally gains weight over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's, and 44% say they expect their pet (and themselves!) to gain weight this season. Veterinarians admit that giving treats in moderation is not an issue, with 56% advising that the occasional treat is fine, however 91% recommend giving fewer table scraps.

Surprisingly, the majority of pet parents (52%) think it is easy to help their dogs or cats lose weight, but veterinarians disagree, with 91% saying it's harder than owners think. However, those with overweight pets (31% with overweight dogs and 24% with overweight cats) feel it's harder to help their pet lose weight compared to before Covid-19, and 49% of veterinarians agree it's harder for pet parents to keep their pets at a healthy weight during the pandemic than before. Ultimately, veterinarians overwhelmingly recommend giving fewer treats (92%), more exercise (91%) and fewer table scraps (90%).

Most pet parents know monitoring treats is a key way to help their pets lose weight. Nearly half (49%) say giving fewer treats would help their dog or cat lose weight, just ahead of exercising more (48%) and giving less food during meals (41%). Pet parents are even willing to make sacrifices themselves, or even give up things they really enjoy if it would help their pet lose weight, with nearly half (49%) saying they'd be willing to go on a diet to help their pet have a healthy weight. They are also willing to give up technology, with 31% saying that they would stop checking social media for a month to help their pet lose weight!

"Hill's Pet Nutrition is committed to ending pet obesity, so all pets can live long, healthy lives with their beloved families," said Dr. Marina Debernardi, DVM PhD, Global Chief Professional Veterinary at Hill's Pet Nutrition. "We hope these new insights will help pet parents think differently about how they can express their love to their pets and spark conversations with their veterinarians. A simple step is to start with better nutrition and becoming more aware of your feeding habits and the impact it can have your pet's life."

Nutritional Assessments

According to the AAHA guidelines, a screening nutritional assessment should be performed on every dog and cat as part of a routine physical examination. Based on the assessment, the veterinarian, with the pet owner’s input, creates an action plan that the owner will likely follow. The goal of the action plan is to help keep the pet in good health.

The screening assessment includes a checklist of the following risk factors for obesity:

  • Altered gastrointestinal function (for example, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation),
  • Previous or ongoing medical condition or disease,
  • Current medications and/or dietary supplements,
  • Unconventional diet (for example, a raw, homemade, or vegetarian diet),
  • More than 10 percent of the pet’s daily calories from snacks, treats, and table food,
  • Uneducated pet owner regarding how much, or what diet, to feed the pet, and
  • Inadequate or inappropriate housing (for example, the pet is caged much of the day and doesn’t get enough exercise).

The screening assessment also includes a checklist of physical examination factors for the veterinarian to evaluate:

  • Body condition score (a body fat score based on body shape and how the body feels as the veterinarian runs his or her hands over the pet),
    • 1 to 5 point scale, with 2.5 to 3 as the target scores
    • 1 to 9 point scale, with 4 to 5 the target scores
  • Muscle condition score: mild, moderate, or marked muscle wasting (muscle loss),
  • Unintended weight loss of 10 percent or more,
  • Dental abnormalities or disease,
  • Poor skin or hair coat, and
  • New medical condition or disease.

If the veterinarian finds that the pet has any of the risk factors for obesity on the checklists, the guidelines suggest performing a more in-depth, or “extended” evaluation.

Overweight Dogs and Cats: Pet Obesity Risks

Obesity in pets is an increasing health risk to our companion animals, specifically for our dogs and cats, and one that is rarely recognized by their people as a real problem. In fact, some find it cute — but it’s a real health risk.

Watch the video: Homemade Weight Loss Dog Food Recipe Filling, Low Calorie

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