Just like in humans, excessive weight can become very dangerous for pets, especially if it is not treated properly. Many of the same weight associated problems which afflict humans also appear in pets, and veterinarians estimate that up to 40% of pets may be overweight, which represents a substantial set of health problems for animals. Especially in the United States, pet obesity rates began to grow in the 1990s, due to unhealthy diets and exercise schedules for many pets. Overweight pets are prone to health risks and they have a poorer quality of life than their more fit counterparts.
Weighing a pet is not the best way to determine whether or not it is overweight. Most veterinarians use a physical examination which pet owners can replicate at home. To begin with, you should be able to feel the backbone and ribs of your pet with minimal palpation, although if these features are visible, the pet is underweight. When viewed from above, a pet's figure should resemble an hourglass, and when viewed from the side, there should be a visible “tuck” between the ribcage and the hindquarters. If a pet looks fat, it is fat, and steps should be taken to bring the pet's weight back to a healthy level.
When treating overweight pets, a veterinarian should always be consulted. Most pets become overweight because of diet and exercise, but tests should be undertaken to eliminate metabolic or other health problems as causes for the weight gain. In addition, a vet can advise the best diet and exercise plan for the pet. This is especially important with cats, as they can become very sick if they are subjected to sudden caloric reductions. Do not put overweight pets on a diet without talking with a veterinarian.
Some of the problems overweight pets can have include diabetes, gastrointestinal discomfort, liver problems, kidney malfunction, skin and hair problems, joint disease, heat intolerance, reproductive disorders, and difficulty breathing. Overweight pets are also at a greater risk for cancer, and they are at risk of more complications from anesthesia than healthy pets. Overall, overweight pets are more likely to have a decreased lifespan and quality of life.
The problem of overweight pets is largely caused by well meaning pet owners who do not understand how to feed their animals. The pet food industry has also promoted specific points of view about feeding which are not necessarily healthy for animals. As a general rule, table scraps and treats should be eliminated from the diet altogether for both healthy and overweight pets. A veterinarian can make specific recommendations for individual pets, as well as answering other medical questions which pet owners may have.