Pet Obesity! What We Can Do About It

Posted on June 5th, 2013

This post was originally posted in Nutricula Magazine on June 5th, 2013

-by Al Plechner, DVM and Bob Berger, MS, MVSc, PhD

Similar to some of the people that live in the U.S., our pets are showing the same increase in overall obesity. There are several private and governmental agencies that are concerned about the health issues caused by obesity in people, but there has been very little concern about the same obesity that is occurring in our dogs and cats.

Is there something that can be done about this?

Yes, there is something that can be done about it, because a pet’s obesity can come from improper diet, improper exercise, and altered genetics, but their obesity mainly comes from you - their pet owner. You are their care-taker and this is your responsibility, not theirs!

Let’s address the first real issue that most pet owners face, which is; What type of food should I feed to my dog and/or to my cat?

Forgetting all the various health food considerations, let’s just consider this very basic issue. Dry food, which includes kibbles, biscuits, and pet cookies, usually contain three (3) times the amount of carbohydrate that canned foods contain!For some reason this is not a well known fact, although it makes sense if you are considering eating a bowl of oat meal as compared to eating the same quantity of granola, (which is a concentrate).

Dry pet foods usually add up to 3 times the calories of canned foods, fresh meats, and vegetables. So remember, when a dry food is advertised as a “reducing diet”, this may still mean that this food may have 2-2 ½ times the calories found in most “wet foods”.

Following the feeding directions for the amount of food a manufacturer recommends feeding your pet based upon your pet’s weight makes absolutely no sense at allIn comparative terms, this makes about as much sense as your pediatrician or MD telling you the amounts of manufactured food you need to feed your child, you, and your family every day!

If you insist on still feeding dry food, (possibly because the same food ingredients in the can do not agree with your pet), then cut down on the amounts of dry food you are feeding and create a vegetable stew that can be used to hydrate the reduced amount of dry food. This will add less calories to it than if you were to have used the same amount of the dry food.

Biscuits and pet cookies for an obese dog are definitely the wrong thing to do!..” bad human!” It would be better to use low fat string cheese and raw vegetables as snacks, until your pet’s excess weight has been managed.


Especially if you do it with your best friend =”good human!”

Daily exercise often will help as long as you do not turn your pet into a “weekend warrior” the first time.

Remember: Less exercise is better than more exercise in the beginning,and as far as the actual distance is concerned, watch your pet.

obese dogIf you walk or run your pet a certain distance and he or she stops or sits down, you have gone too far. In the beginning, please go short distances and remember that age may determine the distance both you and your pet can,(and should), go.

You should also be cognizant of how much your dog (in this case), is panting. Another thing to remember is that dogs do not sweat like we humans do. Their cooling-off mechanism is regulated through panting in order to remove heat from their bodies and to lower their body-core temperature. When you are walking and/or exercising with your dog, if you observe that he or she is panting excessively, it is time to stop and go inside where it is cooler, (if this is during the summer or in a hot climate). If walking and/or exercise is taking place during the winter months when it is cold, or in a cold-climate location, it is still time to stop and go inside where it is warmer so that your best friend can also regulate his or her body- core temperature. All of this is extremely important if your dog is overweight (or obese), as excessive panting puts a lot of extra strain on a dog in general -it puts a lot of extra pressure on the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, and many organs. In addition, it puts a dog with an obesity issue or a compromised weight and/or girth problem at an even greater health risk compared to a leaner dog.

Proper H2O=super important!

Make sure your pet always has plenty of fresh water. If you live in a large dwelling it would be best to have 2-3 water bowls in different areas of the house. (Don’t worry about your house being nominated for “Architectural Digest”if you care about this more than your best friend, be it dog, cat, ferret, etcthen you shouldn’t own a pet.) The biggest mistake many folks make is to forget to fill their pet’s water bowl. This does happen more than we think, so it’s good to have a reserve water bowl in another part of the house.

When coming in from walking or exercising, you may want to fill up your pet’s water bowl (s) with clean, cold water. The reason to stress that the water should be cold, is because, (especially when the core-, as well as the surface- temperature of the body is warm), cold fluids are absorbed more rapidly than if they are tepid or at room temperature, and you want to try to cool your pet’s body down as quickly as possible. Also, just as with humans, if your pet shows a lot of thirst, and drinks rapidly, especially during hot or humid conditions, he or she may be dehydratedalways watch for this!

Another great thing about always having adequate water available for your best friend, is that, just as we have learned about humans, if he or she is overweight, obese, or you are doing your best to “slim him or her down” without doing anything drastic, water will also fill up the void that may help your pet to not eat as much over time. In addition to all of this, a hydrated animal has better all-around circulation, has better digestion, is healthier in general, and the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc., from food will be more available to his or her tissues and organs.

Eliminating Toxins and Xenoestrogens

For our pets, drinking plenty of clean water and insuring that they have healthy kidney function is vital…especially for eliminating toxins and the environmental xenoestrogens that they are constantly exposed to on a daily basis. Just by walking and/or running with your best friend every day, he or she is exposed to pesticides, gasoline fumes, etcAll are toxic and many bind their estrogen receptors just like they do in humans. Because of their “faster metabolism and shorter life span, these poisons and volatile chemicals are, in fact, more dangerous for our 4-legged friends than they are for us…both short- and long-term.

One of the many problems with these poisons and xenoestrogen compounds building up in the bodies of our pets is that they cause them to hold onto a lot of fat and to retain excess water in their tissues. This, along with the cumulative liver side effects and compromises that these poisons cause, all add up to one very big problem once again…obesity!

What can we do here about this toxin and xenoestrogen problem? Keeping your pet lean is a good place to startexercise, proper diet, lots of good water, etcas we have already stated. The less excess body fat your pet has, both on the outside as well as on the inside (interstitial fat), the less chance your pet has of storing these toxins, these excess estrogens, and the xenoestrogens and their metabolites which can all be hazardous for their overall health and longevity.

obese dogKeeping your pets liver and kidney functioning well is key to getting these toxins and environmental poisons out of their bodies efficiently. There are various foods and supplements that can do this. For instance, one of these foods is broccoli which many dogs really like. Not only is broccoli good for your pet as a food and fiber source, but two of its ingredients are Indole-3-Carbinol, (I3C), and Sulforaphane. Both of these are very effective for aiding the liver in converting and clearing potentially harmful metabolites and estrogen-like compounds and their metabolites from the body. There are many things, mostly food and natural supplement-wise that you can do for your pet. Always consult your veterinarian or a reputable animal nutritionist before starting any supplementation.

Obviously - genetics may also be involved

Even if blood test results indicate your obese pet has normal thyroid levels, please do not be fooled, because without measuring total estrogen, you and your veterinarian will not be able to tell if your pet can utilize the thyroid hormones that are present.

This has already been recognized in humans because an elevated total estrogen often will cause the production of a Reverse T3 hormone that will block the availability and use of normal thyroid hormones.

For further information, please go to and under Learn and Hormones, please read the article entitled, Metabolic Hypothyroidism in People and Animals.

The Importance of Proper Grooming

Although most pet owners would question how keeping their pet (s) properly groomed has anything at all to do with obesity, it actually does. For canines in particular, many dog owner’s pet (s) are long and/or bushy-haired by nature. Unless these pets are groomed (hair cut/trimmed and shampooed, etc.), on a fairly regular basis, many become so “hair-tangled” and/or ” hair-cumbersome”, that the owners, many times, are not even able to observe if their pet has gained weight, is becoming obese, or is obese! So in order to really evaluate a pet’s true physical appearance, he or she should be groomed, (or at least presentable), in order to do this.

The Question: Is my pet obese?

If you are not sure if your pet is obese, the following observations may be of value;

Look down on the top of your pet to see if your pet has a waistline and/or is pear shaped.

From the side, look to see if your pet’s stomach is pendulous (sagging) or tucks up at the end of the rib cage.

Check to see if your pet’s ribs are visible; i.e., if you can see the dorsal spines of your pet’s back.

Check to see if there are two fatty lumps on either side of your pet’s lower spine. If these lumps are present, they are referred to as lumbar fat pads, or as I tell my clients, they are “table muscle”.

The last simple test for you to check to see if your pet is obese or not, is to lightly pinch the skin of the neck or the skin covering your pets ribs between your thumb and fore finger, and if the width of the pinched skin is more than ½ inch, there is good indication that your pet is overweightNote: This applies to dogs only, because under normal conditions, cats don’t store fat under their skin. If you still question an obesity problem with your cat, please get an opinion from your veterinarian.

Weight by itself is not the answer because size will normally determine the weight of the cat.

For more information please, go to 50 Years of Healing, Obese Pets in America, p. 35 to 37, Plechner, 2012 and Against the Odds, Given up for Dead, Weighing in on a Problem, p.201 to 202, Spangenburg and Plechner, 2012.

Please remember that in a pet with heart disease, joint disease, various types of arthritis, neurologic disease and/or overall aging, obesity may be the fuse to that non-treatable condition that causes your pet to go from living to just existing.

The Bottom Line here…

Our pets, whether too skinny, just right, lean and healthy, overweight, or even obese, are just like humans in so many ways-they are just a whole lot nicer to be around most of the time!!!!