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Your Happy Pet: Overweight, obese pets can lead to health problems

Original Publication Date: April 28, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Obesity among dogs and cats is a growing health problem. We all love our pets and would like to let them lead "the good life," but that should not include giving them too many treats, too much food and too little exercise.

A 2013 survey performed by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated 52.6 percent of dogs and 57.6 percent of cats were overweight or obese. Unfortunately, overweight pets face many problems.

Excess weight puts a pet at risk for several health threats, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury, kidney disease and many forms of cancer. These health conditions impact the quality of life for a pet and can decrease life expectancy by as much as 21/2 years.

You can assess whether your dog or cat is at a proper weight or is too chunky by determining his Body Condition Score. Scores range from emaciated (1), thin (2), moderate or ideal weight (3), stout (4) and obese (5).

To evaluate your dog or cat, start by running your fingers over its ribs. You should be able to feel them easily because they should be covered by a thin layer of flesh without excess fat. If it is difficult to find your pet's ribs, your pet is overweight.

Continue evaluating your pet by looking down on his back from above. He should have a slight hourglass shape at his waist.

If your pet's physique is straight from shoulder to hip or if it bulges at the waist, your pet is overweight.

Overweight, obese pets can lead to health problems Overweight, obese pets can lead to health problems
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Finally, observe your pet from the side. His abdomen should be tucked up. If the tuck is absent or if the abdomen is distended, your pet is overweight.

A pet that scores in the stout to obese range needs to have its diet and exercise program modified to get it on the road to a healthier lifestyle. It is not wise to make these changes on your own. Instead, consult your veterinarian and ask to confirm your pet's Body Condition Score and general health. Your vet can recommend a plan for a sensible, healthy diet and appropriate exercise.

Carefully follow the plan, even if it means measuring food and setting aside time for daily walks or play sessions.

Your pet will not drop weight overnight, but little by little, you will see a trimmer companion. Its energy level will probably soar as it loses weight and feels fit.

Do yourself and your pet a favor. Help your dog or cat lead the good life by treating it with proper nutrition and exercise. This will reduce the risk for several health problems while increasing longevity.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at