Is your dog or cat overweight? If your answer isn’t an immediate NO, then chances are they are probably overweight. Even if your answer is no, you may be mistaken.
According to a 2017 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a whopping 56% of dogs, and 60% of cats are currently considered overweight or obese. That’s over half of dogs and almost two-thirds of cats in the US and the numbers are growing each year. Many pet owners are simply unaware that their pet is overweight. Your veterinarian can let you know if your pet is overweight and help you determine an ideal body weight to aim for when formulating a weight loss plan for your pet. In addition, below is a few ways to judge if your pet is overweight at home.
Quick and easy ways to determine if your pet is overweight at home:
If you cannot feel your pet’s ribs easily
If you cannot feel your pet’s pelvis (bones near their tail/hips)
If you see rolls on your pets neck or side
If your dog or cat looks oval or egg-shaped when standing over them and looking down
If your pet looks like this:
Veterinarians judge a pet’s weight by what is called a Body Condition Score (BCS). This is a number-based scale on which your pet’s body condition is assessed. Two different BCS systems are used, either a 5 or 9 point scale. Below is the AAHA Dog and Cat Body Condition Score chart to determine the Body Condition Score (BCS) of your pet and how overweight they are.
Even if you do not think your pet is overweight, I recommend asking your veterinarian or looking at the Body Condition Score chart to determine if they are. The fact is that MOST pet owners with overweight pets do not realize how overweight their pets are, or they are in denial. Many owners compare their dog’s size to their friends pets and make their weight assumptions based on the other dogs they see around.
A few months ago I was walking my chocolate lab in the park and a lady who was walking her lab stopped me and said, “I don’t mean to bother you but your lab is really skinny. You should probably take him to the vet to see if he has worms or there is something wrong with him or feed him more.” To make the story even better, she actually recommended taking my lab to my clinic and seeing Dr. Mills because she had heard great things about us from her friends and was going to be swapping over to us for her vet care in the future. While laughing hysterically on the inside and with a big grin on my face, I quickly informed the lady that I was a veterinarian and that I am actually the Dr. Mills that she had just recommended I visit. Her face instantly turned red and we had a good long laugh about it together.
I showed her how my lab was at a perfect Body Condition Score (BCS) and informed her that her lab was around 6-8lbs overweight and gave her some quick tips on getting his weight down. This woman is now a regular client of mine and after some changes in his feeding and exercise I am happy to report her lab is much slimmer now!! The image she had in her head of what a lab should look like was skewed by the fact that all her friends with labs were overweight, so compared to theirs her dog seemed to be at a good weight when in fact it was moderately overweight.
I can’t tell you how many times a month I have a pet owner ask me if their dog or cat is “too skinny”. Probably 95% of the time my answer is “No they are at a great weight!” On the other hand, when owners ask me if their pet is overweight, 95% of the time my answer is “You are correct, your pet is overweight.” Once again, if you think your pet is overweight or you aren’t sure, chances are they are.
So what’s the big deal? Being overweight can lead to a whole slew of medical conditions for your pet. Many owners think that their dog being a little overweight isn’t a big deal. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard owner’s try to play it off when we tell them their pet is overweight, “He’s cuter being a little pudgy” or “he is just a little big-boned like his momma” they say. While in the short term it may not be that big of a deal, however most dogs that are overweight steadily increase in weight unless the owners take steps at home to address it and many of them end up developing medical conditions secondary to their excess body weight.
Health conditions that can be caused by being overweight:
High blood pressure
Respiratory disease/difficulty breathing
And many more!!
Many people shrug these off and say, “my dog isn’t THAT fat” and just assume they have to be markedly overweight to get any of these health conditions, and that’s far from the truth. Pets are more prone to all the above conditions even just being mildly overweight. Every single week I see middle-aged and older dogs come in that have torn their cranial cruciate ligament (the same thing as your ACL in your knee in people)- for owners that don’t know, surgery is almost always required and this surgery usually ranges from $1200 to $4000. Diabetes requires expensive prescription diets, insulin injections twice daily, frequent blood sugar monitoring, frequent urinary tract infections and accidents in the house, and greatly increases the number of veterinary visits a year. Not only can your dog being overweight be detrimental to their health, it can be detrimental to your bank account too! Once these conditions occur, it’s most always too late to reverse them. That’s why it is so important to get control of your pet’s weight before it’s too late!
Just as with all things that need improving in life, the first step is admitting your pet has a problem. Once you make the realizations that your pet is overweight, the next step is determining why your pet is overweight and then formulating a plan for weight loss.
Spencer Mills, DVM
Stay tuned for the next part of the series coming next week:
Weight Loss 101: Part 2- WHY is my dog or cat FAT???