Is Your Pet Obese? Here’s How to Tell

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Americans have gotten fatter, and now we're making our pets fat too. A recent survey found that some pet owners can't even tell whether Fido is overweight, which is hurting pets – and their owners' wallets.

I recently learned that there’s an Obesity Society – and has been since 1982.

I had to pause to process the fact that Americans have gotten fat enough for researchers to justify the creation of a national organization devoted to studying the topic. But we’re not alone: There’s apparently an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention too – and has been since 2005.

And according to their latest survey, more than half of adult dogs and cats are overweight or obese. Take a look…

The survey also found that some pet owners can’t even tell when their best friend is overweight, which is making fat pets the new norm. Says APOP founder and veterinarian Ernie Ward…

“The most distressing finding in this year’s study was the fact that more pet owners are unaware their pet is overweight – 22 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese. This is what I refer to as the ‘fat pet gap’ or the normalization of obesity by pet parents. In simplest terms, we’ve made fat pets the new normal.”

What’s so wrong with a fat cat?

We tend to find chubby animals a lot cuter than chubby people – even APOP’s round-cat logo is adorable – but Fido’s not the only one who will pay for his weight problem. According to APOP, those extra pounds can lead to osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems, and kidney disease – all of which can lead to higher vet bills.

The same is true of humans, but excess pounds are magnified on pets because they’re smaller than we are.

Think about it this way: According to APOP, a Pomeranian that is 1 pound overweight is equivalent to a 5-foot-4 female who is 21 pounds overweight, or a 5-foot-9 male who’s 24 to 25 pounds overweight. Even with a larger breed, like a female Labrador, being 1 pound overweight is equivalent to us being 4 to 5 pounds overweight.

Is your best friend overweight?

There’s no substitute for talking to your vet, but these tools can help you analyze your pet’s waistline…

By weight: The Association of Pet Obesity Prevention’s website offers a free fancy pet weight translator and weight charts to give you an idea of whether Fido’s weight falls into the normal, overweight, or obese categories. (An easy way to weigh your pet at home is to get on the scale while holding them and then subtract your weight.)

By body condition score: This scale ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 5 (obese). APOP provides descriptions of each score, and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University provides illustrations of each score.

By observation: With dogs, you should be able to feel the backbone and ribs, says the ASPCA. (“If you cannot feel your pet’s ribs without pressing, there is too much fat.”) You should also be able to see a “waist” between the back of the rib cage and the hips when looking down at Fido from above, and a “tuck” in the tummy, with the abdomen going up from the bottom of the ribcage to inside the thighs, when looking from the side. (“Dogs who fail these simple tests may be overweight.”)

Now what?

“The single most valuable tool a pet owner has in the fight against obesity is a measuring cup,” says APOP’s founder. “Most pet owners don’t measure how much they’re feeding, and even fewer know how much they should be feeding.”

If Fido’s fat, you’re the solution. It’s actually pretty simple…

  1. Schedule a vet visit specifically to discuss your pet’s weight and diet. Find out what you should be feeding them, how much of it you should be feeding them, and how often you should be feeding them.
  2. Stick to it.

That vet visit will end up paying for itself many times over, your pet will get to spend more quality years with you, and you’ll end up back at the vet less often.

This is exactly what I do with my three rabbits. When the oldest rabbit died last year, she was 12 years old. The average life expectancy for a rabbit is 7 to 10 years.

Stacy Johnson

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