Extra weight impacts your pet’s quality of life and longevity, in today’s veterinary blog, Dr. Teri Dowdell outlines how obesity can affect a pet’s health and how you and your pet can both get on track for a healthier new year.

Overweight pets are prevalent in the United States where obesity ranks as the most common nutritional disorder in dogs and cats. In 2015, 54% of companion animals were determined to overweight or obese, but their owners didn’t recognize it. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, reports that more than 90% of owners perceived their pets to be of normal weight.

That’s where a professional opinion counts. The first step in determining if your pet is at a healthy weight is a physical exam from your family veterinarian. He/she will know the appropriate weight for your pet’s age, stature, and breed. In addition, a licensed veterinarian will have insight on the nutritional needs and the best diet for your beloved pet.

Dr. Teri Dowdell, WestVet Veterinary physiotherapist, helps pets recover physically after surgery, prepare for agility work, and lose weight, among other needs.Pet's obesity can harm their health and their longevity - tips from Dr. Teri Dowdell, veterinary physiotherapist She says that ideal body condition is not just for aesthetics–it really is a matter of good health. A few common diseases linked with pet obesity include:

  • Osteoarthritis. Extra weight increases stress on joints, leading to pain and eventually, joint degeneration. It becomes a circular problem, as a pet with joint pain will decrease activity, leading to obesity. An important note: the single most effective component in managing arthritis in an obese pet is weight loss; appropriate weight loss often leads to medication reduction or elimination.
  • Intervertebral disk disease. Extra pounds do not cause disks to degenerate, however, the weight creates greater force and could exacerbate a sub-clinical condition–often resulting in a veterinary emergency. 
  • Decreased life span. Obese pets live shorter lives by an average of 2.5 years.
  • Diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance. In cats, weight management is especially important to decrease the risk of diabetes mellitus; obese cats have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity.
  • Hepatic lipidosis in cats. When an obese cat goes off food for any reason, body fat is mobilized and may infiltrate the liver, resulting in organ failure. Critical advice: never starve your cat for weight loss!
  • Respiratory Issues. A significant fat layer makes taking deep breaths more difficult. In small dogs, obesity is a risk factor in tracheal collapse; some cases of this disorder can only be successfully managed with weight loss.
  • Increased anesthetic risk. In association with respiratory complications as deep breaths are more difficult for obese pets, anesthetic medications further decrease the body’s ability to breathe deeply. These conditions, along with the fact that many anesthetics are fat soluble, often mean an obese patient may take longer to recover from surgery.
  • Exercise and heat intolerance. Particularly critical during summer months. 
  • Heart disease.Using physiotherapy and veterinary help when your pet is obese, WestVet's Dr. Teri Dowdell.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Urinary tract disease.
  • Impaired immune response.
  • Skin diseases. These ailments often arise due to difficulty grooming; some animals may even develop pressure sores.
  • Cranial cruciate ligament injury. Although knee and joint disease in dogs are considered multifactorial, joint stresses from added weight plus the pro-inflammatory properties of fat may make significant contributions to the eventual rupture of the ligament.
  • Some forms of cancer. Obese dogs and cats are statistically more likely to suffer from cancer.

It doesn’t take a lot of extra weight for your dog or cat to be labeled obese, with their smaller bodies, even a few extra pounds that may look “chubby” or “cute” could put your pet at risk.

Strategies for weight loss differ between dogs and cats. It’s important that you keep an open dialog with your family veterinarian for the best results. In addition, consult your veterinarian to ensure that there are no medical reasons for your pet’s weight gain.

 Simple changes you can implement in your pet’s routine to help reverse weight gain:

  • Substitute lower calorie treats. Your pet may find raw carrots or green beans may be just as satisfying. WestVet physiotherapy and rehabilitation center offers help for obese pets and postoperative care.
  • Ensure everyone is onboard with the new diet and treat protocol… especially children!
  • Therapeutic diets can be helpful, especially when significant weight loss is needed.
  • Increased exercise should be part of the strategy; substitute walk or play time for snack time.
  • Introduce interactive toys that will engage your pet.
  • Place the food bowl upstairs.
  • Utilize a digital pet activity monitor to determine if your pet is moving enough.
  • Physiotherapy has been shown to be very beneficial in reducing lameness associated with osteoarthritis.
  • Frequent weight evaluations are key. Weigh your pet often and remain in close contact with your family veterinarian to ensure that the amount and rate of weight loss are appropriate.

Weight loss can be difficult—but don’t give up. The long-term happier healthier results are worth it!

If you have concerns about your pet’s weight, it’s always appropriate to consult with your family veterinarian. If your veterinarian is unavailable, WestVet is open and able to address your concerns 24 hours a day. 


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