Fat Pets (Part II): Why Fat Is Bad for Fido

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: October 06, 2010
Published: August 13, 2006
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Pets in the US are too fat. Why? Two reasons: They exercise almost as much a we do (dream-running does not count), and they eat too much of the crap we give them. Not that pet food or "human food" is necessarily bad for them. "Crap," used here, infers simply that we tend not to think much when we feed our pets. Instead, we tend to feel when we feed them. In our culture, food is love and indolence is prized. Therefore, most pets are fat simply because they are as loved and treasured as we'd like to be.

While I respect these sentiments (and suffer from them occasionally), I despise their results. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Fat pets move less—they tend towards extreme indolence, which makes them less playful and, because play is fun, obese animals are usually less happy. Moreover, unless Fluffy’s family is also indolent, Fluffy becomes less integrated into the fold than she might otherwise be: fewer trips to the beach, runs in the park, etc.—so Fluffy grows ever plumper.

2. Big, fat pets (like large breed dogs or extremely overweight cats) are so predisposed to painful arthritis and subsequent premature euthanasia (due to immobility) it should be a crime to permit their obesity. To some minds, imposed obesity is de facto negligence. Yes—it is true that some owners cannot control this any more than they can control their own weight (for reasons psychological and/or physical)—but it’s still very sad.

3. Fat cats, in particular, are predisposed to a terrible condition called fatty liver disease. Unfortunate name, this, but very descriptive, nonetheless. When fat cats get sick, even with something as potentially minor as constipation, you know they’re feeling yucky because they don’t eat much. Not eating much means their fat little bodies must now metabolize the abundant fat to keep it going. By some quirk in their metabolism the fat gets processed by the liver and stays there. Next thing you know your cat has yellow skin and you’re well into $2K in vet bills. Here’s a pretty picture you can view before you go out for lunch. Yum.

4. Fat pets unnecessarily stress all their internal organs, potentially causing or intensifying any cardiac or circulatory disease, in particular.

5. Fat pets don’t breathe as well. The fat around their neck strangles them somewhat. I often hear, but Fluffy has always breathed that way. Think hard: Fluffy has always been fat.

6. Fat pets have a greater tendency towards incontinence. Fat females, especially, suffer this indignity more often. It predisposes them to UTIs and bladder stones.

7. Diagnostics are complicated by fat. Have you ever seen an X-ray of a fat pet? The vet has to look past the folds of fat, often distorting the image, to make a diagnosis. Fat in the blood (lipemia) changes many of the values on a chemistry screen.

8. Surgery, especially abdominal surgery, becomes more traumatic and difficult to perform, increasing the length of the anesthetic procedure and potentially resulting in greater pain on recovery.

9. Fat pets with puncture wounds (especially after crushing injuries such as car accidents and large dog bites) carry a much poorer prognosis. As the fat dies around the injury its infection is difficult to control and becomes a major cause of sepsis (whole body infection).

I’m sure I’ve missed some other reasons why your pet should not be fat. Feel free to include them in your comments to strengthen my arguments.

That’s all for today. Time to put out my cigarette, raid the fridge, and go to bed. Ta-ta.