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5 signs of pet obesity – and what to do about it

For most of us, owning a pet is synonymous with some level of physical activity like going for long walks with your dog or playing games with your cat. So, it might surprise you to learn that around 41% of dogs and 32% of cats in Australia are classified as being either overweight or obese.1

That’s almost half of all dogs and one in three cats! Thankfully, getting your furry friend back to a healthy weight isn’t as difficult as it might be trying to shed the kilos yourself.

Here are the most common signs of pet obesity, along with a vet’s expert advice about what to do when your dog or cat is too heavy.

The dangers of pet obesity 

While extra round cats and dogs are often an internet sensation, underneath that fur can be layers of dangerous fat that could be causing the animal serious harm. If nothing else, obesity reduces your pet’s life expectancy, means they have a poorer quality of life and compromises their welfare.

Checklist: 5 signs of pet obesity

The good news is that, in most cases, obesity in pets is preventable, but you must be alert to the signs.

  • Obvious visual signs: This doesn’t just mean excess body fat around the stomach – look for fat deposits over the spine and at the base of your pet’s tail, as well as around their neck and limbs. The typical waist and abdominal ‘tuck’ in healthy dogs and cats will also be absent.
  • Lack of grooming: Most animals keep themselves clean, especially cats and dogs, so if your pet isn’t grooming itself as usual – and especially if it can no longer reach certain areas due to its size – that may be a warning sign. 
  • Less mobility: Not to be confused with a sleepy animal, this may include a disinterest – or even an inability – to jump up, go on walks, play games, climb stairs or go through the doggy door. And sadly, this has been shown to affect the human-animal bond between owners and their pets.
  • Difficulty breathing: Constant panting, even if your pet hasn’t moved, is a concerning sign, as is heavy, strained breathing from the simplest activities.
  • The scales don't lie: Whether you’re weighing your pet at home or in the vet’s office, you’ll be able to tell whether they are at a healthy weight immediately. Be sure you know your pet’s ideal weight and monitor it regularly.

A note on cats: Cats have slightly different body shapes to dogs, but they generally abide by the same rules for obesity as above. When in doubt, use a visual guide so you know whether your cat is underweight, healthy or obese.

Top tips for tackling obesity

So, you’ve checked all the signs and your pet is a little on the pudgy side. What should you do now? RSPCA NSW veterinarian Dr Laura Needham offers the following tips for owners:

  • Get your pet on a healthy diet, ensuring you only feed them high-quality food that is age-appropriate. Also put together an exercise plan that you can stick to. Most of all, avoid the temptation to overfeed. Working out a feeding plan with your vet will give you peace of mind you are feeding your animal the correct amount.
  • There’s nothing wrong with giving your pet treats – so long as they are given sparingly and in small quantities. Instead of ‘junk’ treats, give them vegetables like carrots and beans, use low-calorie but high-reward options like training treats, or use some of the dry food kibble from their daily ration as treats. Importantly, avoid jerky-type treats (especially those sold in general supermarkets) as they may be full of calories and other unhealthy additives.
  • Regular, safe exercise is extremely important. If your pet hasn’t had much for a while, start slow. Fetch and swimming are also terrific and fun activities for dogs, while cats can burn up energy in games that encourage them to jump and ‘chase’ by mimicking their natural hunting instincts.
  • Vets aren’t just for yearly vaccinations. If your pet is obese, it’s best to take them in to see your vet every month for a weigh-in, general check-up, and to review your current feeding plan. They can help you to develop a meal plan and may even recommend a commercial diet designed for weight control.

If your dog or cat is obese, there’s no better time to get them into shape than right now. It’s during this time that you might also think about how any future health issues could put a strain on you financially – especially considering how expensive vet bills can get. If you’re interested in protecting your pet and your wallet with pet insurance, jump online and get a quick quote with RSPCA Pet Insurance today. Please note that pre-existing conditions are excluded, and this could include any complications associated with obesity if this applies to your pet.