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The obesity crisis in dogs and cats

by Lauren Samet

The PDSA Animal Welfare Report (2014) estimates 1 in 3 dogs and 1 in 4 cats in the UK are obese. So what does an overweight animal look like? Do we still know? With obesity and excess weight in the UK’s pet populations becoming “the norm” it is scary to think that our recognition of an unhealthy animal may be being diluted by the commonality of seeing over weight pets.

Pet obesity has reached a record high in Western cultures and this has led to animal organisations taking on the responsibility of educating and raising awareness of what a healthy weight for an animal should look like.

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) is one such organisation. They have produced a range of Body Score Nutrition Charts of “size-o-meters” for pet owners to freely download and use to score their pets at home.

Two examples of the pet size-o-meters- available to download for free here.

If you are unsure where your pets sits on the body score scale or unable to take a weight at home, most vets and veterinary surgeries should be able to give you advice and access to weighing scales.

Are certain pets more likely to be obese? Short answer, YES.

There are several factors that may make your pet more at risk of weight gain but you should not be fooled into thinking that these are excuses for them to be overweight. As a responsible pet owner you should be mindful of the following:

It’s Breed

Certain breeds unfortunately have a higher risk of obesity, and for some breeds being overweight can be particular dangerous. For example, pugs and other breeds which have restricted air passages (this is due to breeders selecting for shorter nose lengths but not for smaller soft pallets meaning there’s much less space in these breeds’ mouths for smooth air flow) already struggle with obtaining enough air when breathing. Add into this being overweight and even more excess tissue can reduce air flow even further!

The Kennel Club suggest that Labrador Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Rottweilers, Cocker Spaniels and Beagles are breeds at high risk form weight gain. Whilst  Persians, British Short Hairs, Sphinx, Raggamuffins, Peke-Faced and Manx are cat breeds more prone to obesity


Weight gain risk increases with age as dogs and other animals may become less active and their metabolism slows. Several feed manufacturers have created senior diets designed to avoid weight gain, however exercise is still really important. If your dog shows signs of pain or stiffness speak to your vet and think about walking them for a few more shorter walks in the day rather than one long one. Also dry them off well if they get wet outside or whilst on walks to keep joints from ceasing up more.

Neuter status

Neutered animals are more at risk from weight gain. Again if you notice you pet gaining weight, think about adjusting their diets – speak to your vet or the customer care line of the food you feed them. These are experts in this area and they should be able to offer you free advice.


Apart from older dogs, obesity is reported to be more common in females. This is likely caused by hormones but does not mean males are exempt.

The Owner 

Studies suggest that obese owners may be more likely to have obese pets, perhaps because they are less likely to exercise their dog, or less able to recognise obesity. Did you know in terms of calories giving a dog one biscuit is the equivalent of giving a human two?  Likewise we might eat one chunk of cheese but that same chunk of cheese to a cat would be nine times the calorific value!? Avoid giving pets extras outside of their main meals and again speak to a vet and listen to them if they mention that your animal is overweight.

“I don’t mind if my cat is overweight so long as its happy”

This is something I’ve heard often and when you give your unconditional love to a pet it’s sometimes hard not to also give it your unconditional treats too! But if you really want what is best for your pet and for them to live a long happy life keeps them at a healthy weight! Obesity in pets can cause:

So, is your animal overweight?

Signs include struggling to feel their ribs, spine or waist, abdominal sag, appearing larger and lagging behind on walks or reluctance to go out for exercise, alongside tiredness and laziness. If you suspect they might be use the body scoring charts from PFMA and speak to your vet, change their diets and step up the exercise (gradually!)

One of the greatest pleasures of owning pets is seeing them happy and healthy!

Exercise and being active gives them physical and mental stimulation which keeps their welfare levels high. So keep pets  active, cut down on their treats and look into an alternative diets if you think your pet may be overweight.


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