Pet Health

Obesity: The preventable epidemic

By September 30, 2022 October 13th, 2022 No Comments

Did you know that more than half of pets in the United States are overweight or obese? This is up from just over 30% in 2013!  That’s not good news, because extra pounds can cause all kinds of health issues for our pets.


If your pet is carrying extra weight, we can work with you to create a personalized weight maintenance plan to help get your pet back in shape.

So how do I know if my pet is at a healthy weight?

Each pet has an ideal weight range which is based on individual factors like breed and gender. That said, ideal weight varies, even among similarly sized dogs or cats. Body condition score (or BCS) is one way we determine a pet’s ideal size and shape. We assign each pet a BCS of 1 to 5.  A score of 1 or 2 means the pet is too thin and a score of 4 or 5 means the pet overweight or obese. Ideally, we want your pet to score a 3.

Check out these charts from the American Animal Hospital Association that show ideal body condition for healthy dogs and cats. When you bring your pet in for a private consult, we’ll show you how to gauge your pet’s ideal weight and BCS.

For now, take a moment to do this quick check:

  • You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs (with minimal fat covering) if you run your fingers across the sides of your pet’s abdomen.
  • Looking from the side of a dog, you should also be able to see a “tuck-in” or upward slope from your pet’s chest toward the hind end on dogs.
  • From the top view, your dog or cat should have a visible waist behind the ribs.
  • If you can see your pet’s ribs or the waist is very prominent, however, then your pet may be too thin.

What are the health risks for overweight pets?

Pets who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing:

  • Arthritis and other joint issues
  • Back problems
  • Certain cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Decreased immune function
  • Respiratory problems
  • Skin issues

Of greater concern, cats and dogs carrying extra weight may not live as long as those at a healthy weight.

The good news is that if your pet is a healthy weight or gets back to an ideal BCS, you’ll be giving your pet a better quality of life, less risk for certain diseases, and a better chance of living longer. That’s why we strongly recommend that you bring your pet in for a private weight management consultation, where our veterinary team will examine your pet and provide an individualized recommendation for weight, as well as exercise and nutritional needs.

Could my pet have an underactive thyroid or other reason for gaining weight?

It’s possible. Mt. Shasta veterinarians will check your pet to rule out any hidden health issues that could be contributing to weight gain. Most pets that are overweight, however, have simply been eating more calories than they’ve burned off.

How can we help your pet lose weight and/or keep weight off?

We encourage all our clients to bring their pets in for a private weight management consult.

After we confirm that your pet doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions, together we’ll come up with an individualized weight management plan. The plan will include practical and achievable nutrition and exercise goals for your pet.

There are many factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity, and may prevent your pet from losing weight despite feeding less of their regular diet. We’ll focus on creating specific steps to change your pet’s caloric and nutrient intake, and increase his or her energy expenditure through activity and exercise. This may mean:

  • Switching your dog or cat to a weight loss diet that will keep them feeling full, just with fewer calories.
  • Reducing the number of treats your pet gets (while making sure they don’t feel deprived).
  • Having regular weigh-ins to ensure your pet is losing an appropriate amount of weight (we don’t want pets to lose weight too quickly).It will also help us adjust the plan to ensure your pet continues to move toward his/her goal weight.
  • Making sure your pet is getting enough exercise, either through walks or playtime. Combined with a diet change, many dogs can start losing weight by walking twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes, and most cats can successfully shed pounds by playing actively for 5 or 10 minutes two or three times a day. Of course, every pet is unique, and we’ll give you personalized recommendations just for your pet.

Following a veterinarian-recommended, nutritionally balanced prescription diet is a good start toward keeping your pet at a healthy weight. Weight loss diets such as Hill’s Metabolic, Royal Canin Satiety Support or Purina Overweight Management are specifically designed to help your pet achieve a healthy weight. However, dogs’ and cats’ nutritional needs change over time based on life stage, health status, and activity level, so nutritional recommendations may need to be updated. Recommended diets can be ordered directly through our online store.

When your pet comes for a check-in, we’ll make sure they’re staying on track and help keep you motivated. Call us today to start your pet on a path to a healthier weight!

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