The Risks of Obesity in Dogs (& Cats)

A once-a-year treat for fit (not fat) dogs!

The Morris Foundation, which runs the lifetime golden retriever study that Cali participates in, has also released new and updated findings about the health impacts of obesity on dogs and cats. First is the shocking statistic that in the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, as many as two-thirds of dogs and cats are obese! Cats are slightly more likely than dogs to be obese.

This contributes to many, many severe health problems and can drastically reduce lifespan. Some are surprising:

  • Inflammation, which affects many diseases, but is often most noticeable in dogs as osteoarthritis. Arthritis can affect knees and the back in obese dogs, but the inflammation can occur anywhere, causing pain in other joints as well, even those that are not weight-bearing.
  • The risk of diabetes is significantly higher in obese cats; it’s less of a factor in dogs.
  • Some types of cancer are more prevalent in overweight and obese dogs and cats.
  • Overweight dogs have a harder time breathing, which can be life-threatening for brachycephalic breeds — those with short muzzles and flatter faces,such as pugs, Pekingese, and bull mastiffs.

How can you tell?

Pretty much every vet’s office has some version of the dog and cat obesity chart on the wall. Generally, you should be able to see your dog’s waist and feel their ribs.

What do you do?

Taking off excess weight takes time. A crash diet is not healthy for anyone! The safest approach is to work with a nutritionist or a vet with credentials in nutrition, but you can also learn a lot from the Whole Dog Journal or Dogs Naturally, my go-to sites for dog health and wellness information.

Start by logging everything the dog or cat eats. Often, we don’t realize how many calories they consume in treats. Or we consume in treats … Your vet can help you figure out how many calories your dog should consume, based on ideal weight, age, activity level, and overall health. The right amount for your dog might be quite a bit less than the feeding guidelines on the dog-food package indicate!

A severely overweight dog may need a specialized diet; for many dogs, though, cutting back a bit on food, and a lot on treats, can be enough. I’m generally not a fan of prescription diets or weight-loss foods. I think they are often of poor quality and overpriced. With expert guidance, you can generally find a high-quality food and feed amounts that provide balanced nutrition — while also gradually bringing your dog down to a healthy weight.

Before cutting too severely, though, you do need to be sure that your dog will still get the nutrients she needs. That’s why talking to a professional is important. And your vet can advise on whether and what types of exercise are safe, again, considering the amount of excess weight, any issues with joints or spine, and the dog’s age and condition. Best of all, the exercise program gives you new opportunities to walk and play with your dog!

It can take several months for a dog to lose excess weight. Be patient; you’re more likely to have lasting results if you take the time to do it right and make permanent, healthy changes in how your dog eats and exercises.

Learn more, especially about cats and obesity, from the Morris Foundation’s podcast!