Dog and Cat Obesity

Like humans, obesity is a problem for our domestic dogs and cats. Obesity, or the state of being severely overweight, results in excess deposits of fat throughout the body. This increase in fat changes the metabolic demands of your pet, places an increased strain on their hips and other joints, as well as their hearts and other vital organs. There are several causes of obesity in dogs ranging from increased caloric intake to system disease states. In the following article, I will discuss obesity in dogs and cats and some practical tips on how to shed those extra doggy and kitty pounds. Finally, we will discuss when it might be time to suspect another underlying disorder that may be resulting in your pet’s weight gain.

The most common reason for obesity in dogs and cats is increased caloric intake compared to the number of calories they burn. In other words, too much food and not enough exercise. I know too well that many of us have busy schedules, and it seems like there’s always 5 things going on simultaneously. Offten, this results in less time for your dog to go out and play in the park or go for that run you’ve meant to take them on, especially in winter. Additionally, dogs and cats require fewer calories than you may realize. Depending on the breed and size, some dogs’ normal daily caloric needs are only a fraction of the amount needed for a human. As a result, those extra pizza crusts, pieces of deli meat, or other snacks can add up for your dog. Some commercial dog treats can have as many as 150 calories each! For most dogs, that’s a lot of extra calories.

So, what can we do when our pet is overweight because we are feeding them too much? Believe it or not, there may be some simple remedies. Try cutting their dog food back by about 10% or increasing the amount of exercise they receive. Try cutting that pizza crust into four pieces and only giving your dog 1 or 2 of those instead. Even better, you can substitute high caloric treats for something a little more nutritious. Some dogs enjoy string beans and snap peas, a few carrots instead of deli meat. Finally, check those treats!! Substituting lower-calorie treats may make a huge caloric difference.

In some cases, dogs are receiving their actual caloric requirements but are still overweight. In those cases, a systemic disease could be the inciting cause. Hypothyroid disease, for example, can cause obesity in dogs. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is underactive. Hypothyroid dogs tend to be overweight and lack the energy to play and run and act as other dogs do. Some dogs with hypothyroid disease will be heat-seeking, have poor skin coats, and be prone to ear infections. Another condition, Cushing’s disease, causes laxity in the muscles of the abdomen. The result is a “pot-bellied” appearance that can, in some aspects, resemble obesity. If you think your pet is receiving adequate but not excessive nutrition and is still overweight, tests for hypothyroid disease or Cushing’s disease may be appropriate.

Numerous disease states are known to be caused by or made worse by obesity, and it is a real threat to our dogs and cats. Obesity is known to have a role in causing some cases of diabetes, for example. Heart disease and tracheal collapse are not caused by obesity but can be significantly harder to control or manage in overweight dogs. Finally, arthritic dogs who are overweight have a double-whammy, as they are both sore and stiff and have more weight to carry around and support.

A word about cats: in my experience, overweight cats are particularly prone to develop diabetes. Diabetes is an endocrine disorder where either not enough insulin is secreted, or that insulin cannot be driven into the cells. Obesity is the single greatest preventable risk factor for diabetes in cats. Some cats who are diabetic can go into remission with insulin, special diets, and of course, weight loss.

Overweight Dogs and Cats

Obesity is a real problem in our dogs and cats, and it does present increased risk factors for many conditions and diseases. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, please call one of our offices to schedule an appointment with a member of our Veterinary Hospital.  Together, we can review your pet’s diet, calculate and estimate the daily caloric needs for your pet and discuss strategies to help achieve the goals we set together. In cases where an underlying disease state is suspected that has caused or contributed to your pet’s weight, Blood Tests may be recommended to help evaluate if those conditions are present. With a little teamwork and motivation, we can get your pet to an ideal, healthy weight and hopefully help keep their tail wagging for years to come.


Jeffrey Stupine

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals