Companion Animal Obesity

Companion Animal Obesity

By Rachel Kuhar

            Companion animal obesity is increasing at an alarming rate with approximately 40% of dogs over the age of one year being overweight. Obesity is ultimately the result of animals consuming more than the adequate amount of calories. An excess of calories, no matter the source, will contribute to adiposity, or fat storage. Many times, a body condition score can categorize overweight animals. Using a 9-point body condition score system, each unit increase above the ideal body condition score equals being 10 to 15% over the ideal body weight. Using this tool can make it easy to see and understand how your animal’s body condition relates to their weight.

Genetics can play a role in obesity. Breeds that are more likely to become overweight include Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Rottweilers. Having a dog of one of these breeds does not necessarily mean that your dog will become overweight, but rather extra attention should be given to their food intake and exercise over their lifetime. Neutering can reduce energy requirements by 25 to 35%. This means that after neutering or spaying your animal, food intake should decreased by 25 to 35% in order to keep them at a healthy weight, given they were at an ideal weight at the time of surgery. Age is another risk factor in companion animal obesity. As animals age, their risk for obesity increases, which is most likely related to decreased activity levels. This is understandable since older animals move less, and in turn, need less energy.

            Moderately overweight dogs have a greater risk for early morbidity. In a previous study, one group of dogs was fed 25% less food than their littermates and weighed, on average, 26% less than the regular-fed dogs. The median life span was also affected; the lean-fed dogs lived 15% longer. Also, the heavier dogs needed medication for osteoarthritis multiple years before their lean-fed siblings required them.

            Cats have increased risk of arthritis, diabetes mellitus, hepatic lipidosis, and early mortality.

Adipose tissue is also an active producer of hormones and can cause a persistent low-grade secondary inflammation, which can play a role in osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus. Even moderate increases in body weight can cause significant changes in insulin sensitivity; risk for development of diabetes increases about 2-fold in overweight cats and about 4-fold in obese cats.

            Prevention of obesity involves understanding the risk factors and managing them appropriately with the first step in effective management being recognition of the problem. It is most important to develop a plan that fits the lifestyle and needs of both owner and patient. Creation of a negative energy balance, meaning the animal is using more calories than it is eating, is the key to have successful body weight loss. Determining the amount of feed needed to create a negative energy balance will differ between animals as they function at different maintenance levels. Diets formulated to include high levels of protein and fiber increase the rate of weight lost and the percentage of weight lost. Alterations can be made to individual caloric allowances on a regular basis to tend to reduction that occur during body weight loss.

            Nutritional modification and well as behavioral modification are needed to manage overweight companion animals. Feeding management and exercise are very important to successful body weight loss. Owners that enjoy giving their pets treats can have a treat allowance built into the plan to continue this pleasurable activity as well as reaching a the necessary energy balance. Activity, both structured and unstructured, can also allow dogs to consume 20% more calories.

            In conclusion, companion animal obesity is a growing problem, but it is a manageable problem. Proper diet and adequate exercise are the two most important concepts to understand in order to keep your pet at a healthy weight.


Armstrong, P. Jane, DVM, MS, MBA, DACVIM. "Canine Obesity: Disease Associations and Management." World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings (2011): n. pag. Print.

Butterwick, R.F., and A.J. Hawthorne. 1998. Advances in dietary management of obesity in dogs and cats. J. Nutr. 128:2771S–2775S.

Diez, M.,  P. Nguyen,  I. Jeusette,  C. Devois,  L. Istasse, and V. Biourge. 2002. “Weight loss in obese dogs: Evaluation of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.” J. Nutr.132:1685S–1687S

German, AJ. "A High Protein High Fibre Diet Improves Weight Loss in Obese Dogs." U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Laflamme, D. D. “COMPANION ANIMALS SYMPOSIUM: Obesity in Dogs and Cats: What Is Wrong with Being Fat?" Journal of Animal Science - Article." N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.