Fat Cats (And Dogs)


This article was written for Pet Guardian Angels of America by Luaretta Williams

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Obesity, Pets, and Nutrition: What You Need to Know

Research published by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) shows that pet obesity is a huge problem that’s getting even bigger. In 2014, a whopping 53 percent of dogs were overweight, and 58 percent of cats weighted more than they should, too. By the time APOP published their 2018 report, the numbers had increased: Nearly 56 percent of dogs and 60% of cats were either overweight or obese.

Why Should I be Worried?

Just like in humans, obesity can cause major issues for pets – and it can even reduce life expectancy by as much as two and a half years. Obesity, usually associated with highly
processed, sugary manufactured pet foods and therefore dental problems, and can lead to a number of serious ailments including:

  • arthritis
  • chronic inflammation
  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • respiratory disorders
  • depression

Chubby pets are no less cute and cuddly than their slimmer counterparts – but the truth is, those extra pounds aren’t doing your pet any favors.

What’s Behind the Pet Obesity Epidemic?

According to a report published by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), there are some common reasons why our pets have a tendency to gain weight.

We Use Food as an Indicator of Love

Too often, we equate extra food and treats with love, and some of the treats we provide aren’t exactly healthy. In general, it’s important to feed your cat a satisfying low-carbohydrate diet that consists of quality food without too many calories, and to treat your dog to an equally satisfying diet of high-protein food without a lot of fillers.

If your pet is overweight, it’s important to choose food that will help maintain muscle mass while encouraging weight loss. This report from All About Cats is designed with felines in mind but it does a good job of explaining the process of choosing pet foods for weight loss in case you’re looking for additional guidance.

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Our Pets Don’t Get Enough Exercise

Besides treating our pets to extra calories – especially in the form of foods meant for human consumption – were often guilty of failing to help our furry friends get enough exercise. If it has been a while since your pet has exercised, you’ll want to take a gradual approach. Play with your cat more (laser toys are great) and go for more walks with your dog. Up the intensity gradually while focusing on diet at the same time.

We Don’t Realize that There’s a Problem

Besides the “big two” reasons for pets becoming overweight, Were All About Pets suggest there are a few more causes: “First, we’ve been conditioned to see overweight pets as normal and normal weight pets as a little too thin. You should be able to see a discernable waist on your pet, and you should be able to feel their ribs (but not see them). If your pet waddles, has a big belly, or has difficulty reaching her back end to groom herself, it’s likely that she is obese. Your vet can help you determine just how significant the issue is.” Second, our pets don’t suddenly gain weight overnight. Just like in humans, pet obesity creeps up and this can make it difficult to see that your once-slim cat or dog has packed on the pounds.

Reversing Pet Obesity the Right Way

Just like crash diets aren’t good for us humans, they’re no good for our pets, either. In cats, crash diets can cause liver disease that could be fatal – and in all pets, eating too little can lead to metabolic problems. If your pet is overweight, it’s a good idea to take a gradual approach to weight loss. Change their diet over the course of a week or so, gradually mixing their new food in with their old food until they’re eating their new, healthy meals.

Take a gradual approach to exercise as well, ensuring that you don’t wear your pet out or allow them to put too much extra stress on joints. Duration and intensity can be increased over time, as your pet’s body adjusts to the additional movement.

Last but certainly not least, check in with your vet to see if there’s anything else you can do, particularly if your pet is severely obese or if they’re getting older. With time, patience, lots of love and a few simple lifestyle changes, you can help your pet reach a healthy weight – and who knows: With a bit of extra exercise, you might find yourself feeling a little healthier, too!