How to tell if your pet is obese — and why it matters

Overweight Beagle

We’ve all seen the sad eyes. That look your pet gives you when the food bowl is empty can be hard to resist. And for pets that require more stimulus, eating food or indulging in extra treats can help ease the feeling of boredom (that goes for humans, too)!

It’s no wonder that one in three cats and dogs living in the U.S. are overweight, according to a 2017 Banfield Pet Hospital study. Long Midwest winters can make it challenging to stay active with our furry friends, which likely contributes to Minnesota ranking highest in pet obesity.

The health cost of extra pounds

Spoiling our four-legged friends with food, or skipping a walk here or there can be tempting. But it’s important to consider the effect on their health.

Frequent overfeeding and lack of exercise can take a toll, leading to serious issues like high blood pressure, increased risk of cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes. Excess weight can even decrease your pet’s life expectancy.

So how do you know if your dog or cat needs to lose a few pounds? Use the graph below as a starting point and determine where they fall on the weight spectrum.

You can also do a quick physical check on your pet’s rib cage. If you feel a small layer of fat but you can still find their ribs easily, they're at a healthy weight. If you have to press hard to feel their ribs, they're overweight.

Planning a healthier path

Diet

Think your dog or cat may be overweight or even obese? Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. They’re an excellent resource for determining your pet’s ideal weight and how many calories they should be eating.

Your vet can help you create a weight-loss plan by suggesting a food that’s right for your pet’s lifestyle and providing portion size instructions. Even if you aren’t intentionally overfeeding your furry pal, portion sizes on pet food packaging are often generalizations that don’t reflect individual animal needs.

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.

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.

Tabby with pink leash

Exercise

Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight as well. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention considers exercise critical for cats and dogs.

Walking is an excellent option for weight loss in dogs. To maximize impact, maintain a brisk pace at the beginning of your trek. Look straight ahead like you mean business, and draw the leash close to keep your dog focused the path ahead.

Dog parks, both indoor and outdoor, provide another opportunity for exercise. Just make sure you know dog park etiquette.

Cat at home? Enrichment toys such as feather wands can help them achieve a healthy body weight. Puzzle feeders work well, too. By hunting and playing for their food, your kitty will burn calories for every piece of kibble.

Adventurous felines may enjoy outdoor exercise on leash. Learn how to get started with leash training.

Don't get discouraged

Patience is important as you strive for a slimmer, happier pet. It can take up to six months to see a difference after making changes in your friend’s food and exercise routines.

Need more game ideas or support in staying active? Check out the resources and course offerings available through Animal Humane Society's Training School.

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

Contact the Pet Helpline