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Pet obesity

Obesity can be defined as an excess of body fat that is enough to impair health, welfare and quality of life. It can affect all types of pet, and the main cause is from eating too much or not exercising enough, although some diseases can cause obesity.

TV vet Joe Inglis with Jack the dog © Stephen Wright / RSPCA Photolibrary 

Obesity in people is generally 20-25 per cent above ideal bodyweight. This is likely to be similar in pets, however will vary.

We believe obesity is a serious welfare issue in pets because it: 

  • Can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and can be extremely disabling.
  • Can affect animals for long periods.
  • Is a preventable problem.

Are certain pets more likely to be obese?

Several factors make obesity more likely in pets. E.g. for dogs:

  • Breed - certain breeds have a higher risk.
  • Age – the risk increases with age.
  • Neuter status – neutered dogs are more at risk.
  • Sex – apart from older dogs, obesity is reported to be more common in females.
  • Owner – obese owners may be more likely to have obese dogs, perhaps because they are less likely to exercise their dog, or less able to recognise obesity.

Similar factors may also be associated with other animals.

The health risks of obesity

Obesity can cause serious health and welfare problems, and make existing problems worse. This can reduce the length and quality of a pet’s life.

Some serious medical conditions associated with obesity are:

  • diabetes
    Obese Jack Russell terrier lying on weighing scales © RSPCA Photolibrary

  • heart disease
  • respiratory distress
  • high blood pressure
  • cancers

Obesity is also likely to affect a pet’s ability to perform natural behaviours (e.g. exercise normally).

Preventing obesity

For dogs and cats there are a few simple checks you can do:

  • You should be able to see and feel the outline of your pet’s ribs without excess fat covering.
  • You should be able to see and feel your pet’s waist and it should be clearly visible when viewed from above.
  • Your pet’s belly should be tucked up when viewed from the side.

If your pet does not pass these checks, or if you are in any doubt, consult your vet.

They will be able to provide a health check and if necessary recommend a weight reduction programme.

To help your pet keep a healthy weight, download a Pet Size-O-Meter from PFMA.

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