Pet Obesity and the Shrinking Planet

The world’s not getting smaller; everybody’s just getting bigger.

As the human obesity epidemic has been swelling, another quiet expansion in body size has occurred: Our pets are getting as fat as we are. And the world just got a little bit smaller.

According to a the latest survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (don’t laugh, I founded it in 2005), 53% of dogs and 58% of cats were classified as too heavy by their veterinarian. That’s about 90 million pets that need to shed excess pounds.

In 2014, 53% of U.S. dogs and 58% of cats were classified as overweight by they veterinarian. 

In 2014, 53% of U.S. dogs and 58% of cats were classified as overweight by they veterinarian. 

But, c’mon, if our pooches want some extra goodies, we give it to them and make them happy. How can you resist those pleading eyes? If they're happy, who cares if our pets are too heavy? For starters, your veterinarian cares deeply about your pet's health and quality of life. That's why this topic is so important; obesity is hurtful and harmful.

My mother used to tell me, “Nobody cries ‘til somebody pokes an eye.” Harsh, mom, but I got the point.

The point here is nobody cries until their own “fat and happy” dog or cat develops diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, or cancer. When it does, it’s often too late to change course. One of the keys to helping your dog or cat live a long, healthy, disease- and pain-free life is how much you you feed it.  

How can tell if your pet needs an intake intervention? 

  • Start by feeling your pet's ribs. You should easily be able to feel each rib without digging through a mound of loose flesh. If you can’t, it’s likely too heavy.
  • Next, check for a sagging stomach (think love handles or big belly). If your pet’s tummy is hanging low, this means there’s too much belly fat, the most biologically active and dangerous fat there is. Forget thunder thighs, flabby forearms and bulbous buttocks, it’s the spare tire that will flatten a human or pet’s life expectancy and quality of life.
  • Look at your pet from above. Does it look like an hourglass or beach ball? Bulging outlines indicate excess fat tissue. Beach balls are bad, at least when your pet is the one rolling around.

How can you help?

If your pet is like half of our nation’s four-legged friends, it failed one of the above home checks and needs to go on a diet. Diet is the secret to weight loss. I bet you already knew that.

Be wary of feeding guides

So I’ll tell you a dirty diet secret you may not know: Be wary of pet food label feeding guides. If you feed most pets what the food label recommends, you’re overfeeding by 20% to 30%. That’s a lot of kibble.

That's because pet food feeding guides are formulated for un-neutered or un-spayed adult dogs and cats unless they say otherwise. They’re made to meet the caloric requirements of the “most demanding life stages.” That means the label feeding guide is calculated to provide the amount of daily calories a pregnant female, growing puppy or kitten, or mother feeding her litter needs. After a pet is neutered or spayed, its metabolism slows, usually requiring 20% to 30% fewer calories. If you feed according to the bag or can, it’s too much if your pet has been sterilized, is older, or not as active as it should be. And most aren’t.

Calorie counting for pets? You bet. The average indoor cat needs about 180 to 200 calories per day and an indoor 20 pound dog should eat 350 to 400 calories. For weight loss, your vet will likely reduce these amounts. The best and most accurate way to determine how many calories your pet needs each day is to have your veterinarian calculate them based on your pet's unique needs.  


Here’s another secret: Most pets will eat every treat you’re conned into offering. And, boy, are they good con artists. Once again, you already knew that. We're all suckers. 

Treats are the silent saboteurs of most reasonable, balanced, nutritionally-complete diets. Many seemingly tiny treats can contain one-quarter to half of a pet’s daily caloric needs. It doesn’t take many goodies to add up to serious excess weight.

Dogs Don't do division

Since dogs don’t do division, try breaking treats into small pieces. Even better, offer carrots, celery, broccoli and other crunchy vegetables when you feel the need to reward your dog with food.

And resist the con. When our pets “beg for food,” it’s typically a cry for attention. Of course, they learn this from years of conditioning: Give puppy-dog eyes and whimper, receive food. Repeat. Break the cycle by rewarding your dog or cat with a walk, petting, play-time, anything other than food.

It’s the love we have for our pets that compels me to do something about the greatest health threat they face today. Do your part and help make the world a little bigger. You know what I mean.