Fat pets: A Minnesota epidemic

Buddy at 200 lbs.

Buddy the dog could barely walk into Animal Humane Society’s Coon Rapids shelter. He had grown to 200 pounds — nearly 120 pounds over his ideal weight — and his elderly owner couldn’t care for the sweet, 8-year-old chocolate lab mix any longer.

Buddy was suffering. But AHS vet staff believed that with some time in a foster home, where his diet could be carefully monitored, Buddy could be a happy, healthy dog. Gradual weight loss is key, but the time and patience is worth it! Thanks to Buddy’s foster family, he’s lost 33 pounds over three months.

“He’s the sweetest dog and is such a teddy bear,” says his foster mom Lisa Swanson. “He has good days and bad days. We’re taking it day by day.”

Swanson makes sure Buddy goes outside every day to move, even if it’s just for a few steps. He’s on a strict diet and he’s getting plenty of glucosamine supplements to help his joints.

Obesity in pets like Buddy is a common condition. In fact, a 2017 Banfield Pet Hospital study reported that one in three cats and dogs living in the U.S. are overweight — and Minnesota ranks the highest in the number of obese pets.

At AHS, shelter animals are no exception. Many of the animals surrendered to us need weight loss intervention.

Buddy in foster

Extra pounds come with health complications

Managing your pet's weight is an important part of overall health. Extra pounds can cause pets to have more serious health issues, like:

  • high blood pressure
  • increased risk of cancer
  • respiratory disease
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • decreased life expectancy

So how do you know if your pet is too fat?

It's pretty simple! If you feel your pet's rib cage and there is a small layer of fat over their ribs, but you can still easily feel their ribs, they're a healthy weight. If you feel too much fat and have to press hard to feel their ribs, they're overweight. 

If you think your cat or dog is a bit on the tubby side, contact your veterinarian. They’ll weigh your pet and determine how much they need to lose to achieve their ideal weight. Vets also will let you know how many calories your pet should be eating per day. Many people often go by what the packaging on pet foods say, but those instructions are often generalizations and don’t accurately reflect what your individual pet may need. Your veterinarian can also help you select the right food.

Indoor-only cats need very few calories. In fact, most veterinarians insist a half a cup of food is all they need per day!

Just like humans, exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight.

Exercise in dogs

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says walks and exercise are critical for cats and dogs. When it comes to canines, they suggest you should walk your dog at a brisk pace at the beginning, whatever brisk would be for your dog. Look straight ahead like you mean business, and draw your leash close to keep them focused on walking.

If your pooch is dog friendly, the dog park is always a great place for exercise! Just make sure you know dog park etiquette.

Exercise in cats

For indoor-only cats, enrichment toys and puzzle feeders are a great way to achieve a healthy body weight. By hunting and playing for their food, they burn calories for every piece of kibble.

And did you know you can leash train your cat?  It’s not as hard as you think with the right equipment. Yes, you can walk your cat to burn off calories! It does take time and patience, and if you don’t have either, a few minutes with their favorite toy is sure to help your cat move.

Feeding in multiple pet households

If you have multiple pets, it’s important that you feed each animal separately. Never free feed in multiple pet households — there will be no way for you to know how much each animal has eaten.

But what about the sad, pleading eyes?

We’ve all seen the sad eyes — that look you get when the food bowl is empty and your pet is pleading with you for more food. A few tricks include taking their meals and dividing the kibble into four or six smaller meals. Also, make sure your pet’s water dish is always full. Dogs especially love fresh water and will lap it up when there’s nothing to eat.

It can take up to six months to see a difference after making changes in your pet’s food and exercise routines. If your pet is still on the plumper side, you may want to visit your veterinarian to discuss other options.

If you think your pet might be overweight, talk with your veterinarian. Need help finding one? Read these tips to help find the right vet for you and your pet.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline