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Ask the Vet: Pet Obesity by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM
October 6, 2018

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Since dogs range in size from 2lbs to 200lbs with all sorts of body shapes, we rely on their body condition to tell us if they are overweight.  Cats don’t vary in size as much as dogs but we still follow simple guidelines to determine their ideal weight.

For a dog or cat at an ideal weight:

  • The ribs should be easily felt without excess fat covering them, but not seen when standing still.
  • A waist should be seen behind the ribs looking down at your pet
  • A waist should tuck up at the abdomen when you look at your pet from the side

Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s body condition.

Is pet obesity really a problem?

Recent studies by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention show 53% of adult dogs and 55% of adult cats are overweight and 25% of cats and 21% of dogs are obese.  These numbers have increased since 2010.  Many pet owners are unaware that their pet is overweight or obese.  We are so accustomed to seeing overweight dogs and cats that we don’t recognize it as a problem.

What’s the big deal about being overweight?

Nestle Purina performed a controlled study over the life of forty eight Labrador Retrievers and showed that by maintaining a lean body weight alone, dogs live 15% longer.  For the Labradors in the study this was equal to about 2 years.  In addition to shorter lives, obese dogs and cats are at an increased risk of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and skin disease.

How do I get my dog or cat to lose weight?

The general concept for weight loss is simple - eat fewer calories and exercise more. Incorporating those concepts into your daily life is more difficult.  Here are my tips:

Reducing your dog’s calories
- Write down all the food that your dog consumes each day, including treats, table scraps and chews.  Seeing it on paper helps you realize all the food they eat.  Start by feeding less kibble or switching to a weight control diet.  If you were feeding 4 cups of food per day, decrease it to 3 ½ cups.  Substitute carrots or apples for commercial treats.  Use verbal praise, attention or play instead of always rewarding your dog with food.  Use toys or non-edible chews in place of rawhides and bully sticks.  If your dog seems starved you can divide their total food into 3 or 4 smaller meals so they eat a little bit throughout the day.

Reducing your cat’s calories - Write down all the food that your cat consumes each day, including treats and table scraps.  Switch to a high protein/low carbohydrate food with canned food preferable over dry food.  Feed less total food or use a weight control food. If your cat seems starved you can divide their total food into 3 or 4 smaller meals so they are eating a little bit throughout the day.  Play “hide the food bowl” where they have to seek out their food.  This gives them a chance to stalk around the house and gets them moving.

To increase exercise, take your dog for two brisk walks per day.  Get your dog to run by playing fetch or set up regular play date with another dog.  Put the food bowl upstairs so they have to go up and down the stairs more during the day.  For cats get out the laser pointer, fishing pole or whatever toy encourages your cat to scramble around.

I recommend weighing your dog or cat once a month to determine if your diet strategy is working. Weight loss should be gradual.  I also recommend checking with your veterinarian before starting a diet plan as some pets have medical issues causing obesity (hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease) or are on medications that increase their appetite.  Your veterinarian can help calculate how many calories per day your pet should be eating and discuss whether a prescription diet food is indicated.

Keeping your pet lean is extremely beneficial to his or her health and in your control.  Good luck and happy dieting!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email

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