Insights from the Editor

How Overweight Is Your Pet?

posted by Andrea Kane on February 27, 2011 4:01 PM

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Is your dog more Rotund than Rover? Is Fluffy's poofy coat camouflaging a few extra pounds? If so, you may be killing your pet with kibble kindness: Overweight pets are affected by many of the health issues humans are.

According to a new study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), in collaboration with the veterinary clinic chain Banfield, approximately 53 percent of cats and 55 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. The percentage of pets that are obese (at least 30 percent above normal body weight) has increased over the last four years.

You might look into your beloved pet's eyes, shrug your shoulders and think "I love you just the way you are." But believe me, you are not doing your pet any favors. As with humans, being overweight leads to a host of ills, including osteoarthritis, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease and many forms of cancer. This all translates into a decreased life expectancy.

How do pets become overweight? Just like humans, they eat more calories than they need. And since Fido can't take himself to the drive-thru window of the local fast food joint, the excess weight is the owner's doing. The good news: The solution also lies within the owner's power.

According to PetMD.com, there are four typical scenarios:

The Nibbler: He "hardly eats a thing" but in reality picks at all the choicest morsels all day long.

The Beggar: She "won't keep quiet unless she gets her treats."

The Good Dog: Her owners "don't want her to go hungry."

The Gourmet Dog: He "refuses to eat dog food" and feasts instead on fattening human delicacies.

How can you tell if your pet is overweight? Just as it's sometimes hard for a parent of a chubby child to see the truth, it's often hard for a pet owner to acknowledge a problem. After all, where exactly do you draw the line?

According to APOP, your pet is overweight if:
It's difficult to feel your pet's ribs.
Your pet's stomach sags.
Your pet has a broad back with no visible waist (when viewed from above).

APOP has a more precise listing of ideal weight ranges for different breeds of dogs and cats.

You can help your pet lose weight by taking the common sense approach: Reduce calories and increase exercise. PetMD.com and APOP both recommend that you talk strategy with your vet before embarking on a weight-loss regimen.

Also, your pet should be checked out first to make sure that a heart, thyroid or other metabolic disorder isn't causing or contributing to the weight problem. And get everyone in the family is on board with the game plan to avoid any unintended sabotage induced by those irresistible puppy-eyes or that convincing purrrrrr-leg wrap combo.

Related Links:
Can pets help you with road rage? Our comedian investigates.

Which houseplants are toxic to kids and pets?

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About the Author

Andrea Kane

Andrea Kane has been writing and producing health and medical news for television, the web and various magazines for almost all of her professional career.

Most recently, she was a health producer at CNN.com where, among other things, she helped direct content for the award-winning web site’s five health pages. Prior to that she was as a staff writer at WebMD (and its predecessor Medcast) and the Wellness Correspondent for travelgirl magazine. She started her career as a writer and producer in CNN's award-winning medical unit.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, amidst the writing and reporting frenzy, she managed to produce two terrific daughters, who also appear to have ink running in their veins and are never at a loss for words (the wheels of karma have a tight turning radius indeed).

Andrea attended Vassar College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A native New Yorker, she moved to Atlanta almost 20 years ago.