Recent Study Finds More Than Half of the Pet Cats and Dogs in the U.S. Are Overweight

PetMD Editorial
Updated: July 19, 2016
Published: June 08, 2016
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Pet obesity is always a weighty subject (so to speak) and a recent study from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) just tipped the scales in a shocking new direction for the epidemic. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, the findings from APOP discovered that "approximately 58 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015."

APOP defines obesity for pets as being 30 percent above the ideal weight. Of the 136 veterinary clinics who participated in the study, they analyzed "the body condition scores of every dog and cat patient seen for a regular wellness examination on a given day last October." The scores to denote body condition were based on a five-point scale and actual weight was used in determining whether pets were underweight, at an ideal weight, overweight, or obese. 

So what can pet parents do to ensure their cats or dogs don't fall under the umbrella of obese or overweight? Or, if their pet is already considered obese or overweight, what can they do to get them back to an ideal weight? 

Dr. Chris Miller, DVM of Atlas Vet in Washington, D.C., tells petMD, "The most important first step in preventing obesity in pets is recognizing that there is a problem." While most vets will use the "body condition score" to assess if a pet is the right size, Miller says that pet parents can and should keep an eye on an animal's figure, too. 

For instance, for pet owners to determine their pets' ideal weight, "there should be a noticeable visual change, or waist seen where the chest meets the abdomen," Miller says. "If you have to jab your fingers into your dog’s side to feel the ribs, or if your dog has the silhouette of a sausage looking down on top of them, your dog is likely overweight. Once you know your dog is too heavy, owners can take very simple steps to begin working on losing the undesired weight." 

Miller says that both a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet are the leading causes of obesity, but that can be remedied by getting pets moving physically through playing and regular exercise, as well as monitoring their food intake. He also says to stick to regular feeding times and portion control rather than leaving food out all day for pets to eat as they please. 

"Can you imagine trying to lose weight when every time you walked past your dining room there was a buffet of food set up?" Miller says. "Having food out all the time encourages your pets to overeat."

But if you believe your pet is eating a healthy portion and exercising regularly, Miller explains that the extra weight could signal a medical condition. "Your veterinarian may need to check for certain endocrine disease that can predispose them to weight gain," he says.

No matter what is causing your pet's obesity, it is one that must be taken seriously by pet parents for the health and safety of their cats or dogs. 

"Dogs and cats that are overweight can suffer from a variety of ailments that are directly linked to obesity," Miller notes. "The increased fat can decrease range of motion, puts stress on joints, ligaments, bones, and muscles, and can make arthritis symptoms worse. This discourages the pet from moving, which can exacerbate the weight gain. Other issues like heart disease, weakened immune system, and skin disease can all be more prevalent or made worse by an overweight pet." 

Since obesity is a preventable issue, that staggering number found in the APOP study can fall if people take the proper steps to ensuring their pets' health. Pet parents simply have to promote an active and balanced lifestyle, and, of course, take their cat or dog to the vet to keep up on their vitals.

"Taking your pet to his or her annual veterinarian examination is the best way to keep informed about your pet’s weight status and the best practices for maintaining a healthy weight," Miller says. 

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