Is your pet overweight?

Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of letting those pleading, puppy-dog eyes get the better of us and sneaking a second or third treat to the dog or cat. They’ve already finished the bowl of dried food that looks cruel and unappetizing, so you let them lick up the scraps of chicken from your dinner plate. As difficult as it is to resist handing out these extra treats to our pets, restraint may be more important than it seems.

“Just as obesity has become a serious problem in people, it’s also a growing problem in pets, one that can seriously harm your pet’s health,” said Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian in the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CVM is responsible for ensuring that food for animals — including animal feed, pet food, and pet treats — is labeled properly and safe for both animal consumption and the people who handle the food.

A 2015 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight.

“The diseases we see in our overweight pets are strikingly similar to those seen in overweight people,” Stamper said, naming as examples diabetes mellitus (also known as Type 2 Diabetes, in which the body does not use insulin properly), osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, and kidney disease.

“We want our pets to live happy lives, but we also want them to live long ones,” Stamper said. Obesity in your pet can significantly shorten the animal’s life span.

Is my pet fat?

Ideal weight for pets depends on the animal’s breed, age, body type, and metabolism. In general, an animal is considered obese if it is 20% or more over its ideal body weight.

“In dogs, some breeds seem more inclined toward obesity than others,” Stamper said. She notes that breeds such as labs and beagles are good examples, as well as long, low dogs like dachshunds and basset hounds. In contrast, although there have been an increase in reports of overweight and obese felines, veterinarians have not found one specific cat breed to be more prone to obesity.

Factors such as neutering and aging can add to your pet’s risk of obesity. Injuries or illnesses that keep your pet from getting a good amount of exercise are also among these factors. In order to ensure your dog or cat stays at a healthy weight, it is important to talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate amount of food.

Questions to keep in mind for your vet

Every dog and cat is different, and no one will be able to give you more accurate advice on your pet’s ideal weight than your own veterinarian.

“There’s a good reason why your animals get weighed at every vet visit,” Stamper said. It is important for pet owners to ask about their animal’s weight, even if they aren’t sure there is a problem. Some things to keep in mind for your pet’s next vet visit:

  • What are some specific signs that my animal is gaining weight?
  • What is a good normal weight for my pet?
  • What type of food do you recommend, and how much is a serving? How many times a day should I feed my pet? (Stamper notes that the amount recommended on the side of the food bag may not be right for your particular animal, depending on your pet’s age, activity level, or other )
  • Does my pet have a health condition (such as arthritis) that makes it advisable to keep weight on the low side?

Stamper adds that an overweight pet is not the only sign of a serious health problem. Underweight cats or dogs, or a pet who suddenly shows a lack of appetite can be a reason for a trip to the vet.

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