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Clinical Suite: Obesity in Dogs & Cats

Heather L. Troyer, DVM, DABVP, CVA, CVPP, Oradell Animal Hospital, Paramus, New Jersey

Jessica Goodman Lee, CVPM, Veterinary Credit Plans, Irvine, California

November / December 2013|Peer Reviewed

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Obesity in Dogs & Cats

Heather Troyer, DVM, DABVP, CVA, Oradell Animal Hospital, Paramus, New Jersey

Many owners think their overweight or obese pets are, in fact, normal. This misperception, coupled with other factors, can contribute to obesity, which can lead to chronic inflammation and a negative energy balance that results in increased difficulty managing comorbidities, predisposing patients to lameness from osteoarthritis, respiratory issues, shortened life expectancy, and poor skin and coat health.

Related Article: Discuss Pet Obesity with Clients


  • Obesity, defined by a mature body weight that exceeds an ideal weight by 15%–20%, is the most common nutritional disease of dogs and cats.1
  • Like the rate of obesity in humans, the incidence of obesity in pets is increasing.2
  • Risk factors include neutering, middle age, inactivity, indoor lifestyle, and genetic predisposition.3,4
  • Effects and mechanics of hyperinsulinism, glucose tolerance, and dietary or supplemental therapy for weight control and concurrent disease treatment are under investigation.5


  • The primary cause is a human enabler—pets eat what clients provide, and most pet exercise reflects client lifestyle.
  • Many clients assume processed or grain-based foods cause obesity, but obesity results from an excess of calories with a low energy expenditure, leading to weight gain.


  • Obese patients usually show signs of concurrent disease: increased drinking and urinating, lameness and inability to move, increased respiratory effort or panting, and more frequent sleeping.

Related Article: Canine Obesity: When Veterinarians & Owners Disagree


  • Body condition score (BCS) and muscle condition score
  • Orthopedic examination and joint imaging for lameness or other comorbidities
  • Examination to evaluate skin and coat health and ability to groom
  • Minimum database (eg, CBC, chemistry panel, urinalysis, thyroid level, blood pressure)


  • Dietary plans should coincide with exercise treatment plans (eg, walking, swimming, physical rehabilitation).
    • Plan should target 1%–2% body weight loss per week to minimize hunger, prevent loss of lean body mass, and reduce likelihood of rebound weight gain.5
    • Diet should contain fewer than 20% fat calories and may be formulated with a moderately fermentable fiber source, fatty acids, high-quality protein, L-carnitine, carbohydrate blends, chromium, or extra vitamin A.5
  • Psychosocial and behavioral notes (eg, dependent owner eats only if pet shares the meal) are important for methods to implement change.
  • Feeding strategies and food diaries (maintained by the client) are beneficial in some cases.5


  • Conscious, lifelong attention to lean body weight and monthly BCS (4/9–9/9)
  • Calorie restriction
  • At puppy and kitten examinations, begin the conversation of maintaining lean body weight.

References and Author Information

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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