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Is My Dog or Cat a Healthy Weight? Questions to Ask Your Vet

Pets, like people, can be obese. Here are some tips from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on how to recognize whether your furry friend should go on a diet.

Your 8-year-old chocolate lab is putting on weight, and you know she should probably lose a pound or two. But when she looks at you pleadingly with those big brown eyes, how can you resist handing out just one more treat?

It’s not easy. But it may be important.

“Just as obesity has become a serious problem in people, it’s also a growing problem in pets, one that can seriously harm your pet’s health,” says Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian in the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) at the FDA. Among CVM’s responsibilities are making sure that food for animals—which includes animal feed, pet food, and pet treats—is properly labeled with truthful claims, and is safe for animals and the people who handle it.

According to a 2015 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight.

“The diseases we see in our overweight pets are strikingly similar to those seen in overweight people,” Stamper says, naming as examples diabetes mellitus (also known as Type 2 Diabetes, in which the body does not use insulin properly), osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, and kidney disease.

“We want our pets to live happy lives, but we also want them to live long ones,” Stamper says. Obesity in your pet can significantly shorten the animal’s life span.

How Fat is Too Fat?

In pets, 20 percent over ideal body weight is considered obese. But the ideal weight is relative, depending on the animal’s breed, age, body type, and metabolism.

“In dogs, some breeds seem more inclined toward obesity than others,” Stamper notes. Labs and beagles are two examples, as well as long, low dogs such as dachshunds and basset hounds. In contrast, while veterinarians are reporting more overweight and obese felines, no one specific cat breed is prone to obesity.

Neutering can slow down a dog or cat’s metabolism, and so can aging, especially if the animal gets less exercise than when younger. It is important to talk to your veterinarian about how much food your dog or cat should be eating.

Keeping Track: Important Questions to Ask Your Vet

The real expert on the ideal weight for your animal is your vet, who marks changes over time in a way that you—who sees your animal every day—may not.

How does your vet know if a pet’s weight has edged past normal and become unhealthy? Many use body condition scoring systems for both dogs and cats, such as a 1-5 point scale (with a “1” being very skinny, and a “5” being obese.) Where on the scale does your animal fall?

“Ask your vet to explain the scoring system he or she uses,” Stamper says. And ask for specifics about what to look for, such as:

What are some specific signs that my animal is gaining weight?

What is a good normal weight for my pet?