“Honestly Doc, he doesn’t eat that much.”

This is a typical comment by many clients when I break the bad news that their pets are overweight. Obesity is fast becoming the most common health concern of domestic pets. Obesity affects more than 50 % of dogs and cats who live indoors with us humans. An animal is determined to be overweight when they are 10% over the ideal weight and obese when 20% heavier than ideal weight. Thinking of a Labrador Retriever whose ideal weight is 66 pounds (30 Kilograms) overweight would be 73 pounds and obese 80 pounds. This doesn’t seem like a lot of pressure 7 and 13 pounds for us, but for a mid-sized dog, it is.

When we look at cats, the numbers although smaller equate to the same percentages. If a cat whose ideal weight is 5 kg (11 pounds) weight 5.5 kg, she is heavy and at 6 kg is obese. Again this is only a difference of 0.5 kg and 1.0 kg respectively which again does not sound like a lot but to s smaller cat, is.

Why do I worry so much about animals having more weight than they should? I see so many animals with sore joints due to arthritis and I know if they regained their optimum weight, they would hurt less. Every year I see 5-6 new cases of diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) which is directly related to being overweight. Finally, there is lots of research available showing animals tipping the scales at an appropriate weight live longer than healthy animals.

When weight is an issue the only way to reduce the burden is to either exercise more, consume fewer calories or both. The foods we feed our pets are very calorie dense tipping out between 250 and 450 kilocalories per cup. A 5 kg cat who is moderately active needs to consume approximately 200 kilocalories per day or just under ½ or just over ¾ of a cup of food depending on how many calories per cup.

For our 66 pound Labrador, she needs approximately 1000 kilocalories per day or 2.2 to 4 cups of dry food. This does not take into consideration snacks and treats which all add calories. Our dogs need exercise to keep lean and burn off calories. Running is the best way to burn off calories, but walking also helps. Sixty to ninety minutes of walking per day (every day) is needed to keep dogs fit and lean. Cats are harder to exercise so playing with a toy, encouraging chase games and setting up snacks to “hunt” all keep them active. Obesity is fast becoming if not already an epidemic affecting our pets. Planning meals and exercise can help prevent our pets from getting heavy and, if they do pack on the pounds, creating a plan for weight loss will allow them to live longer more comfortable lives.

Written by Dr. David Kerr, DVM