How to Avoid Pet Obesity

Pet Obesity Is My Biggest Pet Peeve

By Dr. Katy Nelson

So you walk into your veterinarian’s office for your dog’s annual exam and you’re feeling fine. You’re within a few weeks of the due date of the necessary shots, you were on time for the appointment (almost), and you even remembered to bring the stool sample that they inevitably ask for (ew)! Score! All seems to being going well, when all of a sudden the vet says the ugliest word in the English language about your dog: overweight.


You develop tunnel vision. The room spins. Surely you heard her wrong? Fifi isn’t FAT, she’s just FLUFFY! She needs a haircut. It’s right after the holidays. You hurt your ankle and couldn’t take her for enough walks lately. Your husband/son/daughter/mother-in-law has clearly been feeding her too many treats lately. She certainly is NOT overweight. Besides, her neck rolls are so velvety, and it’s so cute when she sploots on the floor and you can see the rolls on her thighs. Isn’t it? She’s healthy, right?

Well, unfortunately, the answer to that last question is likely “no.”


It can be an uncomfortable conversation on both sides, believe me. Over 65% of Americans are overweight, and our pets are following suit. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), over 57% of dogs and 53% of cats are overweight. And in a survey conducted by APOP, among pets that veterinarians ultimately classified as obese, an astounding 93% of dog owners and 88% of cat owners classified their pets’ weight as normal.


So pet owners out there, please hear this: when your veterinarian is discussing your pet’s weight with you, please do NOT be offended. They are NOT calling you a bad pet parent. They are not asking you to make excuses for your pup’s physique. This should be no more offensive to you personally than your vet telling you your pet has a dysfunctional valve in her heart, or that her cruciate ligament is torn.

A long-term study was conducted with 48 Labrador Retrievers from 7 different litters divided into 2 dietary groups. One group was fed an adult maintenance diet, the second group was fed the same diet at 75% of the amount. The dogs in the restricted group lived an average 1.8 YEARS longer, weighed less, had better body condition scores (similar to BMI in people) and had longer delay to treatment of chronic disease. This is powerful evidence that proper weight has an impact not just on quality of life, but longevity itself.

This is why the “weight discussion” with your veterinarian is so very important. If you feel like your pet may have a weight problem, or if you just can’t tell, have her assessed by your veterinarian. She will assign a body condition score, and if your pet is indeed overweight, discuss any workup that may be required, a daily caloric goal, an exercise program, which diet is best for your individual pup and whether any nutritional supplementation should be instituted.


Take the time to re-examine your relationship with your pup. Are you constantly rewarding/bribing with treats? Do you always add just a few extra kibbles to her bowl because she’s “such a good girl?” Maybe instead of those indulgences, you can indulge her in different ways. How about a little window shopping together? Or a scenic ride in the car (properly secured, of course)? Or a good old-fashioned roll in the grass? Remember that the greatest treat you can ever give your pet is your time…and that is completely calorie-free.

Also be very mindful about what you feed your pet. If possible fresh food is a great option and if you don’t have time to cook for your pet try a pet food like Freshpet, which has fresh, refrigerated food for your pet made with only real meat, veggies and fruit. Try to avoid pet foods where you don’t recognize the ingredient list or that list meal versus meat. Always follow the amount to feed your pet as well because overfeeding at meal time can also be a huge problem. For more on healthy eating go to www.freshpet.com/what-is-freshpet/.

The bottom line is, if you want your pet to live a long, healthy and happy life, you can’t afford not to listen when your vet talks about your portly Pug, your rotund Retriever, your chunky Chow Chow, your bulging Bulldog, your swollen Sheltie or your corpulent Corgi (I know, I promised not to do that).

“Killing with kindness” is, as it turns out, a real thing. The kindest thing you can possibly do for your dog is to keep her slim and trim in order to make the most of your years together.


About Dr. Katy Nelson:

Dr. Nelson is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA. as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. She has been featured on the TODAY Show, Fox & Friends, NPR, CNBC, The Meredith Vieira Show, HuffPost Live, and is the expert for the second season of the popular show “Unlikely Animal Friends” to air this Spring on NatGeo Wild.

Dr. Katy is the Medical Director of Pet Health for Stop Aging Now, a leading nutrition and lifestyle company that relies on the latest clinical research to guide them in their efforts to help people and pets. She is also the Medical Director of Pet Health for BioStem Logics, the leader in regenerative medicine for humans and pets. She is a frequent contributor to HuffPost Pets, BarkPost and PetMD and you can also read “Ask Dr. Katy” quarterly in the Virginia-Maryland Dog Magazine, or online.

Dr. Nelson is passionate about health and fitness, and she strives to help dogs and cats to live the longest, fullest life that they can lead by staying fit and trim. Along with Steve Pelletier from SlimDoggy and Krista Wickens from DogTread, she is a founding partner of PetsMove.org, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs.

Dr. Nelson is a Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ), accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ)

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