loader image

Obesity in Cats and Dogs

Obesity is one of the most common forms of malnutrition. Based on a report by the Australian Veterinary Association in 2020, almost half of the dogs and almost one in every three cats in Australia are overweight or obese.

Obesity has been linked with a myriad of health conditions and disadvantages which includes:

  • An increased risk of osteoarthritis, joint diseases and soft tissue injury
  • Developing insulin resistance or diabetes mellitus
  • Having a shorter lifespan compared to their fit counterparts
  • An increased risk of respiratory diseases like tracheal collapse or
  • an exacerbation of the brachycephalic airway syndrome
  • A higher risk during anaesthesia
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of skin diseases
  • Increased risk of liver disease

How do I know if my furbaby is overweight?
Despite the prevalence of pets being overweight or obese, surveys have shown that many pet owners are actually unaware that their furbaby is overweight or obese.

Being able to determine if your furbaby is overweight or obese can be extremely difficult and subjective. Therefore, the Body Condition Score (BCS) system has been developed to provide us with an objective measure of the nutritional status of your furbaby. Recognising the ideal BCS for your cat or dog is the first step to combating excessive weight gain and obesity in pets. The BCS is assessed based on a the following criterias:

  • The palpability of the ribs, lumbar spine and pelvic bones
  • The presence of a waistline or an abdominal tuck

Below is a 9-point BCS chart from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). It is a scale from 1 to 9, where 1 is emaciated and 9 is severely obese. An ideal BCS for dogs and cats is a score of 4 and 5.

Once you have identified the BCS of your furbaby, it is easy to calculate the ideal weight of your furbaby using the following chart:

BCS (9 point scale) Variation from ideal body weight (IBW) Ideal body weight (IBW)
5 100% of IBW Current BW
6 115% of IBW Current BW/ 1.15
7 130% of IBW Current BW/ 1.3
8 145% of IBW Current BW/ 1.45
9 160% of IBW Current BW/ 1.6 or greater

How do I know how much food my pet needs?
Dietary therapy is the cornerstone to maintaining a healthy weight or to lose weight. Your furbaby’s daily calorie allowance can be determined by first calculating the maintenance energy requirement (MER) for their ideal body weight. The equation for MER calculation is as below:

MER (kcal/ day) = 70 x (ideal body weight)0.75

After obtaining the MER, reduce that allowance by 25 to 40% depending on the activity level and reproductive state of your animal. A more active animal or an entire animal may require less caloric reduction whereas a neutered, old and inactive animal may need a higher caloric reduction.

What are some tips to help my pet lose weight?

  • Weight loss should be gradual to reduce the risk of a weight rebound
    • In cats, you should expect a 0.5-1% body weight loss per week
    • In dogs, you can aim for a 1-2% weight loss
  • Measuring the amount of food using a scale is most accurate but a measuring cup can also be used.
  • When undergoing weight loss, you want to keep treats to 10% or less of the calorie intake
  • Food-seeking behaviour is not abnormal in dogs or cats undergoing a caloric restriction. You can try to reduce these behaviours using distraction like play or exercise and slow-down eating using food toys like a slow feeder bowl or a puzzle toy
  • Get active! This may depend on various factors such as age and health condition. For example, some older animals with arthritis or joint disease may require more gentle exercises such as swimming
  • Monitor your furbaby’s BCS and weight every 2-4 weeks and adjust caloric requirements as needed as MER can change throughout the weight-loss journey
  • In some cases where reduction in the normal diet is insufficient in delivering the desired weight loss, the use of weight loss diet such as Hills Metabolic or Royal Canin Satiety Weight Management may be useful. These prescription diets are high in fibre to help animals feel full for longer. The Hills Metabolic diet is also formulated to activate your furbaby’s metabolism and stimulate their natural fat burning ability

If you suspect that your furbaby is overweight, please consult your veterinarian who will perform a thorough physical examination and assess the body condition score of your furbaby. A detailed history collection and physical examination by your veterinarian is also pivotal to rule out other hormonal diseases that may be contributing to weight gain, such as hypothyroidism.