Animal Article
Beyond Body
Pudgy pet problems
"And how to address them"
Kat dela Torre, DVM

There is a common misconception that a fat pet is a well-fed pet. In truth, some well-meaning owners subject their animals to unnecessary risks by feeding them too much. Sometimes overfeeding occurs simply because people don’t know what their pet’s ideal weight is. Here’s a simple way to determine whether your pet is too heavy:

  • Take a look at your pet’s profile (side view). Do you see a clear outline of his waist just behind the last pair of ribs? This is known as the abdominal tuck.
  • Feel your pet’s ribs. Are they easily felt?
  • Take a top-view look at your pet. Do you see the abdominal tuck from this angle as well?
  • Feel your pet’s backbone (spine) at the level of its belly and the base of its tail. Can you feel the bones in these areas easily?

If you answered “no” to all or most of the questions then it’s high time you visit your pet’s veterinarian because chances are, your pet is overweight. Your vet can confirm whether or not your pet needs to be put on a diet. The doctor might also suggest some tests to more accurately determine your pet’s health status before initiating a weight loss program. Make a list of his regular physical activities and what he eats (including not only his regular food but also his treats and leftovers you give to him) and work together to come up with a realistic diet and exercise plan. Ask all the questions that you want so that everything is clear and you know what to expect.

It may take some time (average of 6 to 8 months) for your pet to achieve its ideal weight. It does not and should not happen instantly. An overweight pet will probably be exercise-intolerant so don’t push him to exercise longer than his body can physically withstand. Dogs cannot sweat (except a little bit through their paws) so it makes it harder for them to cool down compared to us. If your pet has been used to the sedentary lifestyle for quite some time, gradually re-introduce physical activity to his daily routine. Given our humid and often hot weather, it’s advisable to take him out for a walk early in the day or after the sun has set. This also ensures that his paws won’t get scorched from the hot pavement.

Be very alert for signs of exertion, if your dog starts to pant or lags behind, let him rest and offer some water. Brachycephalic (a.k.a. short-snouted) breeds of dogs (shih tzus, boxers, pugs, bulldogs, etc.), because of the physical structure of their skulls, are also more prone to exercise-induced problems such as breathing difficulty and overheating (because of their less efficient ability to pant).

As you and your animal begin to get used to exercising regularly, you can gradually increase the level of activity until you reach your goal. Regularly check in with the vet so he can help you monitor your progress and suggest changes if needed.

Another contributing factor to a pet’s obesity is the amount of treats it is given. A survey done in the UK as part of the 2011 PDSA (Public Dispensary for Sick Animals) Animal Wellbeing Report, determined the following figures based on answers given by more than 10,000 owners of dogs, cats and rabbits:

49 percent say that giving treats makes them (owners) feel happy

36 percent of owners giving treats also makes them feel caring

66 percent of owners think that they make their pets happy by giving treats

This report also goes as far as calling indiscriminate feeding of treats, table scraps, etc. as “killing with kindness.” This can almost be taken literally as obesity has also been attributed to decreasing a pet’s lifespan by as much as two and a half years!

There is a fine line between encouraging and pushing your pet too hard. You must be very careful never to cross that line as it may prove to be detrimental. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice before making any lifestyle, dietary, and activity changes in your overweight pet’s existing routine. Success won’t happen overnight but when it finally does, it will be worth it.