Obesity has become an all-to-common health problem for pets. Overweight dogs and cats are at a much greater risk for developing a wide range of diseases, have a decreased quality of life, and frequently die much earlier than do animals that maintain a healthy weight. A balance between diet and exercise is necessary to prevent obesity.
Owners should regularly examine their pets to determine if they are at a healthy weight. Ribs should not be visible but should be easily felt just under the skin. When looking down on a dog or cat from above, the abdomen should be a little narrower than the chest (e.g., an "hourglass" figure). From the side, the chest should be closer to the ground than is the belly when the animal is standing. Of course, a great deal of variability in what is normal exists and in some cases a medical condition (e.g., hypothyroidism) may be to blame for a pet's weight gain, so consult with a veterinarian if you are unsure of your pet's condition.
Increasing the amount of exercise that a pet gets is one of the best ways to help it lose weight and keep it healthy. Encouraging cats to exercise can be difficult but many will chase crumpled paper balls or the light emitted from a flashlight or laser pointer across the floor. Kitty "fishing poles" can also be useful. Feeding smaller meals, switching to a diet food, and/or restricting treats may all also be necessary. A veterinarian can determine exactly how much of a specific food should be fed to a particular animal to lead to in a healthy rate of weight loss. Veterinarians may also recommend diets that are available by prescription only and medications that can help some pets lose the weight necessary for them to live full and happy lives.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008