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Pet Obesity

Dr. Colleen Carney

According to surveys from the Association for the Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of our dogs and cats are overweight or obese. That equates to nearly 41 million dogs and 50 million cats that are considered to be at an unhealthy body condition. In addition to a diminished quality of life, excess weight can have detrimental effects on a pet’s overall health and put them at risk for a shortened lifespan by up to two years.

HOW DO I KNOW MY PET IS OVERWEIGHT?
Body condition scoring (BCS) is the most common way we analyze weight in animals. Ideal BCS includes easily palpable ribs with an “hourglass” waist and tucked abdomen or belly. Charts are available by the WSAVA to aid in finding your pets’ body condition score, but we suggest you use your veterinarian as a resource for monitoring BCS. Additionally, tracking your pets’ weight and/or body measurements can help with diagnosing obesity and tracking weight loss in your pet.

WHY IS MY PET GAINING WEIGHT?
The reasons for obesity are multifactorial, however there are a few major things to keep in mind when thinking about causes for weight gain. Early in life, with spaying and neutering pets, this can cause change to metabolism. Lifestyle certainly plays a role in an animals’ weight as well—caloric intake needs to be catered to whether a pet is active or more sedentary. Finally, there are some underlying diseases in pets that can affect BCS including hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease; a veterinary exam and bloodwork can help to determine if these are a concern for your pet.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF OBESITY?
Obesity in pets has been linked to increase risk of diabetes, arthritis and difficulty with mobility, heart disease and high blood pressure, exacerbation of respiratory diseases such as tracheal collapse and laryngeal paralysis, and more recent studies are finding an association with some cancers.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY PET LOSE WEIGHT?
The best thing you can do for your pets’ weight is to consult with your veterinarian about a plan for weight management. We can help calculate appropriate caloric intake and make recommendations for proper diet/nutrition based on your dog or cat’s weight, activity and other health concerns. In some cases, even prescription diets may be used to boost metabolism and balance calories. Cutting out or replacing treats with healthier alternatives can benefit your pet as well. In addition to counting calories, starting an exercise routine for your pet is also recommended, but should be started slowly and gradually. Visit petobesityprevention.org for more resources on helping keep your companions at their optimum health!