A study in 2019 by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association has reported that vets believe 51% of dogs and 44% of cats are overweight, 74% of vets also believe that obesity levels have increased (https://www.ukpetfood.org/resource/pet-obesity-report-2019.html). This does not however correlate with what owners seem to think about their own pets – with 68% of owners thinking their pet is exactly the right size.
How to assess your pets weight
It can be very difficult to assess your pet’s weight, especially as you see them every day so are less likely to notice gradual changes. A good way to assess their weight is by using a body condition score chart, such as the ones shown below. This is something you can assess at home without the need for any equipment, and gives you a way to monitor their weight over time.
To assess your pet’s body condition, use a flat hand to feel over your pet’s ribs, and look at your pet from above and the side when they are standing comfortably.
Any point above 5 is indicative of 10-15% increase in body weight i.e. if your pet is a 6 on the chart then they have 10-15% excess body fat, if they are an 8, they have 30-45% excess body fat.
Risks of being overweight
Excess body fat increases your pets chance of suffering with multiple diseases, and adds a lot of extra strain on their joints.
Conditions your pet becomes at increased risk of if they are overweight include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Heart disease
- Respiratory distress (especially in warmer weather)
- Some forms of cancer
Obese cats are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and lower urinary tract diseases.
How to help your pet get to and maintain a healthy weight
An appointment with your vet is always a good place to start if you have concerns about your pet’s weight or body condition. They may need to perform some tests to check that the change in weight is not due to an underlying health condition. They can also advise about changes to diet and exercise that could help get your pet to a healthy weight. Lots of practices offer weight clinics which offer long term monitoring of your pets weight, which can be very beneficial to help reach and maintain a healthy weight long term.
Obesity is often caused by too much food and too little exercise. It can be hard to exercise elderly pets as much as you used to, especially if they have conditions such as arthritis or heart disease. This is where diet management becomes very important. As pets become older, their calorie requirement reduces, and this requirement reduces even further if they are not doing as much exercise as they used to. Simple changes such as reducing treats and not feeding them any human food, can make a huge difference to reducing their body condition score.
Being a healthy weight will help your pet be more active and feel more comfortable, especially in the warmer months. If your pet is starting to struggle on their legs, making sure they are at a healthy weight will be of huge benefit to keeping them comfortable and able to get themselves up and around for longer.