Obesity & Weight loss

The internet is full of cute, funny photos and videos of ‘chonky’ pets – but a fat cat or pudgy pup is no laughing matter. Much the same as humans, overweight and obese animals are susceptible to a range of dangerous and uncomfortable health conditions, and ultimately can lead to a shortened life.

Obesity is one of the most common nutritional disorders our vets see in cats and dogs. In Australia and New Zealand, nearly half of all pet dogs and approximately a third of pet cats are overweight! Some common ailments caused by being overweight include:

• Diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
• Degenerative joint and orthopedic disease (including arthritis)
• Joint stress or musculoskeletal pain
• Respiratory problems
• Cancer and tumours
• Skin problems
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Reproductive disorders
• Decreased quality of life
• Shorter life expectancy

What causes pets to become overweight?

There are a few ways our pets can gain excess weight, and whilst some breeds are more susceptible to weight-gain than others, most reasons come down to our willpower as a responsible pet parent! These causes can include:

• Feeding extra treats
• Feeding unhealthy treats
• Feeding an unbalanced diet
• Lack of exercise

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Your pet might be overweight if:
• You experience difficulty when trying to feel their ribs
• You cannot see a defined ‘waist’
• You can see obvious fat deposits and rolls
• They are no longer grooming themselves efficiently, if at all
• They are reluctant to exercise or are disinterested
• They quickly become tired and refuse to continue exercise
• They have a ‘waddle’ to their walk – or other abnormal movement
• They are at a weight dramatically different from breed guidelines
• They are often panting – even without movement or exercise

Healthy treats and fun exercise

Avoid feeding your pet ‘junk food’ treats like jerky type strips and highly processed snacks that might be purchased in the supermarket. Human treats are also a big no-no – no matter how cute those begging eyes are. It is also important not to feed your pet treats here and there ‘just because’. Use treats as a reward for positive behaviours and training. Some healthier reward treats include:

• A small percentage of your pet’s daily feed allowance (kibble)
• Fresh foods like carrots, zucchini, berries, or beans for dogs
• Small amounts of cooked fish, catnip, or cat grass for cats
Some simple ways to include fun exercise in your pet’s day include:
• A walk
• Playing with your pet – inside or in the backyard
• Fetch (for cats and dogs!)
• Tug-o-war
• Swimming
• Climbing toys and spaces for cats
• Chasing laser toys
• Socialising with other animals your pet is comfortable with
• Nose-works – get your cat or dog moving by hiding healthy treats or interesting smells for them to sniff out

What can I do if I think my pet is overweight?

If you suspect your pet is overweight, it is important not to change their diet or exercise schedule drastically or quickly – this could exacerbate the problem. Book an appointment with your vet, and together you will create a plan to help your pet reach their optimal weight in a healthy and sustainable manner.


Sad overweight dog

Helping your dog lose weight

Sad overweight dog
Pet owners need to be strict with their dog's diet

We all want our furry family members to be happy so sometimes we spoil them with sneaky snacks or a little extra food. These seemingly innocent actions on a regular basis may contribute to our pets’ weight and obesity – which can lead to a number of serious medical issues.

A good indicator to tell if your pet is overweight is if you can’t feel their ribs or they lose their waistline. A pet with a healthy bodyweight should have an hourglass shape when looked at from above, and you should be able to feel the tops of their vertebrae when running your hand along their spine. Overweight pets can be reluctant to play and can find exercise or movement painful. Swapping those unhealthy treats for a healthy, balanced diet plus regular exercise, has been shown to give your pet a longer and happier life.

If you suspect your pet is overweight, your first step will be to visit your local Veterinarian. Once the Vet assesses your pet you will likely be given:

  • Instructions to maintain a healthy diet that include recommendations on food and portion sizes.
  • An exercise plan tailored to your pet that will provide sufficient movement and exercise for your pet to lose weight.

The importance of specialty food in weight loss

While simply decreasing the amount of food in each meal could help your pet lose weight it is not recommended. Smaller amounts of their usual food can reduce the amount of nutrients they are receiving. Instead, your Veterinarian may recommend a specially designed food to complement the weight loss program. These specialty foods are highly-digestible and high in nutrients while having reduced calories.

The importance of regular exercise

Exercising not only helps your pet lose weight but also helps the body and metabolic system to function properly, and engages the mind. You may have to start off small and slow and first with your dog’s exercise plan. Depending on how overweight they are they may tire quickly or may end up overexerting themselves and causing injury. Swimming, in particular, can be a low impact yet effective exercise if your dog is struggling with long walks.

The next step is to stick to the plan with absolute vigilance. It is up to the pet owner to make sure the diet and exercise plans are followed. Any extra food, treats or missed exercise sessions will mean that it will take even longer for your pet to be happy and healthy again.

If there are other people in the house that feed your furry family member, make sure you are all on the same page with the eating times, portions and the amount of exercise needed. There is no benefit to sticking vigilantly to the plan if someone else in the house is giving your dog treats.