woman with golden retriever

Ahh, fat pets.

There is a special place in everyone’s heart for tubby dogs and cats. Beloved across the internet as ‘thicc bois’ or ‘chonks,’ those extra rolls and round, squishable bodies make fat pets resemble the oversized stuffed animals you’d win at a carnival.

The cuddle appeal of a fat pet may be undeniable, but unfortunately so are the health consequences. Unlike a stuffed animal, a dog or cat is a real, living creature whose body has limitations and whose wellbeing is directly linked to their physical health. Obese cats and dogs have reduced lifespans and increased risk for many serious ailments. Being the owner of an overweight pet also means extra hygiene challenges and expensive vet bills.

As your dog or cat’s devoted guardian, you know it’s your responsibility to make sure your best pal is getting everything they need to be happy and well. But maybe you’re not sure how to tell if your dog or cat is obese, or you don’t know what to do to help your pet lose weight. That’s why the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) declared October 12th as National Pet Obesity Awareness Day: to provide support and resources for all parents of plump pets. 

Because when it comes to your best furiend’s happiness, being a chonkosaurus isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

How Obesity is Hurting Your Cat or Dog

Even if your podgy pet appears to be “fat and happy,” that extra weight is harming your buddy in many ways

A fat dog or cat is at higher risk for long-term and dangerous conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and even cancer. Obesity in dogs or cats also increases their chance of injury, since your pet may tear a ligament or slip a hip partly due to the extra weight. That means expensive surgeries, long recovery times and unnecessary pain and discomfort for your pal.

Day-to-day, fat pets will have an overall feeling of unwellness and low energy. They overheat easily, and they often have an odor. Pets with additional fatty wrinkles may develop skin conditions or need the folds between their wrinkles to be cleaned regularly in order to prevent build-up of dirt or bacteria. 

Reduced physical wellbeing impacts your pet’s mental wellbeing, too. Obese pets often struggle to fulfill their natural behaviors, and can become stressed as a result.

For example, cats are famously self-cleaning, but an obese cat who physically cannot reach certain areas of his or her body won’t be able to maintain basic hygiene. And cats don’t clean themselves out of vanity: they have nerve endings at the base of every hair, so they can actually feel it when hairs are out of place. It’s distressing for your cat to feel that discomfort and not be able to fix it. It’s stressful for you, too — we know you love your kitty, but that doesn’t mean you’re happy when they need your assistance to keep their butthole clean!

Overall, obesity reduces both the quality of your pet’s years and also the number of years they get, with one study finding that overweight or obese dogs have their lifespan reduced by an average of 2.5 years.

How to Tell if Your Dog or Cat is Obese

Right now you may be looking at your furry buddy as they sprawl on the sofa and wondering: is Sassy truly fat, or is she just fluffy? Are Rover’s extra pounds due to chunk, or is he big-boned? 

Pet obesity charts like these charts from APOP help pet parents determine where on the scale their fur-baby falls.

Dog obesity chart for pet obesity awareness daycat obesity chart for pet obesity awareness day

Yet just like in humans, each pet is unique and their “ideal weight” varies. A 15-lb Maine Coone cat might be lean and healthy, while a 15-lb Siamese cat could be over twice their healthy weight. Even two pets of the same breed (or from the same litter!) may naturally retain or lose weight in different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to even tell what’s fat and what’s fur! 

So how do you know what a healthy weight would be for your dog or cat? It may be obvious, but if you ever wonder, “Is my dog or cat too fat?” then the first thing to do is to call your trusted veterinarian.

A professional evaluation of your pet’s health is important to combat what APOP calls “the fat pet gap”: the growing difference between what pet parents think a healthy pet looks like and what a healthy pet actually looks like. Most people are so used to seeing fat pets that they perceive an overweight cat or dog as perfectly normal!

Dr. Steve Budsberg, veterinary surgical specialist and Director of Clinical Research for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, words it this way

“The sad truth is that most people can’t identify a dog or cat with obesity. Whenever their veterinarian tells them their pet needs to lose weight, they often can’t believe it because they don’t see it.”

The shocking reason why a fat pet looks perfectly fine to most of us is because over half of dogs and cats in the United States are obese or overweight! 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese in 2018. While the numbers aren’t in yet for 2021, that percentage has been trending upwards, which means even this alarming estimate is likely too low today.

How to Help Your Obese Cat or Dog Lose Weight

Once you’ve determined that Fluffy does need to be, well, less fluffy, you may be wondering how you can help your cat or dog reach a healthy weight. 

One of the most important steps you can take to help your dog or cat lose weight is to increase their amount of regular exercise. But don’t enroll your pooch in doggy bootcamp! The safest way for your pet to lose weight is slowly and steadily. You wouldn’t expect yourself to start running marathons overnight, and the same is true of your pet. Ease your pet into any lifestyle changes after making a weight loss plan with your vet.

To add exercise to your pet’s routine, establish an easy place to start. Even five minutes of activity every couple of days can be slowly increased. Aim to eventually get your dog moving for an hour a day, if they can. 

Remember that there are more ways to get your pup’s heart pumping than just a walk around the block. Many dogs enjoy swimming and the water provides extra support for their joints. Consider choosing a canine sport to provide structure to your exercise sessions and give you goals to achieve. (If you’re worried that your beloved chonkster may be too slow for canine sports, watch Zeus the English Mastiff doing his best at agility and remember that it’s all in good fun!).

To keep your cat active, work your way up to 2-3 playtime sessions per day of at least 15 minutes each. Try to offer your kitty a rotating selection of toys so that they don’t get bored. Keep a few toys out all the time, but also identify “special” toys that you can put away between sessions. That will make these toys extra exciting when you do pull them out to play.

Feather wands and other dangly toys tend to be feline favorites, but remember, a cat toy doesn’t have to be fancy — in fact, you can easily DIY your own cat toys and your kitty will be just as pleased!

pet obesity health consequences

A fat pet is at higher risk for dangerous conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

What if My Obese Dog or Cat Doesn’t Want to Play?

Sometimes, portly pets will be reluctant to increase their activity. This is partly because obese cats and dogs tend to have low energy, and partly out of habit. In Fido’s opinion, if you’ve never made him work for his dinner before, why start now? At first, some pets may even seem to resent your efforts to make them move — but don’t give up!

High-value treats may be just the push your pet needs to get them going. However, be wary when selecting a food reward — treats may look small but when they’re densely packed with empty calories, they can quickly sabotage your pet’s diet. 

Vital Essentials freeze-dried treats are genuine raw meat, low in carbs and high in protein, so they’re nutritious options that add to your pet’s health instead of counteracting it. They’re also so delicious and motivating that you won’t need as many to get the job done. Once a tasty freeze-dried minnow or yummy chicken heart is on the line, your kitty or pup will find extra motivation you didn’t know they had!

Once your pet starts moving, that momentum will build. They’ll realize they feel better after their daily walk or playtime and will start looking forward to it. (You’ll know your pet is enjoying the exercise when you forget a session and THEY remind YOU about it.)

After you’ve been following an exercise routine for your obese cat or dog for a few months, their weight loss may slow down or hit a plateau. If this happens, stay optimistic and don’t feel like your efforts were in vain. Even a small weight loss of 5% — that’s only 2 lbs off a 40 lb dog — makes a big difference to how well your pet feels each day and boosts their overall health. Regular exercise also provides many other benefits such as lower blood pressure and a stronger heart. 

Plus, all that playtime or walking means you’ve been having fun together — and maybe you’ve been exercising more than usual, too. Just remember that every step counts (literally!).

What’s the Best Diet for a Dog or Cat to Lose Weight?

To help your pet lose weight it’s important to increase their activity and watch what’s going in their food bowl. If you’re currently feeding your pet a standard kibble diet, you may not be aware of the nutritional issues with kibble or how a raw diet can help your dog or cat lose weight.

Traditional kibble diets contain too many soluble carbohydrates due to fillers like corn, wheat, rice or peas, which are essentially ‘empty’ calories that your little carnivore’s body can’t properly utilize. Those unused calories are either excreted or stored as fat, while kibble’s low protein content means your pet still feels hungry all the time. As pet parents, how many of us have experienced firsthand a cat who won’t stop meowing for food or a dog who seems to always be starving?

According to animal nutritionist Dr. Richard Patton, these empty carbs are one of the biggest problems with standard dog kibble: 

“The kibble is somewhere between 28-45% soluble carbohydrates. This predisposes a number of problems, promotes the wrong bacteria in the gut, compromises immune capability, and also sets up what looks like allergies. If you have a dog that is on a standard scoop of kibble in the morning and again at night and you switch it to a raw diet, you’re going to see a number of things change. First of all, there’s going to be less stools and firmer stools. You’re going to see this dog lose about 5% of its weight. You’re going to see that it’s happy to come eat, but it’s not ravenous.”

The best diet for pet weight loss and for overall health and wellness is a nutritionally balanced raw meat diet. Since a raw meat diet is low in carbs and high in protein, your pet feels full for longer, which reduces begging at the dinner table. You also won’t need to feed as many calories to begin with. That’s because raw food is full of natural nutrition, so every bite is able to be absorbed and utilized by your pet’s body. 

An increasing number of pet professionals like feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy are recommending a raw diet for chonky pets.

For the most biologically appropriate and healthiest pet diet, there’s no substitute for Vital Essentials frozen and freeze-dried raw pet food for dogs and cats. Vital Essentials food and treats contain zero grains or artificial fillers. We also don’t cook our products or subject them to HPP, as these processes cause nutrients to break down. All the natural goodness found in our premium raw meat is retained up until the moment your pet wolfs it down!

It’s easy to enjoy all the benefits of raw feeding, either by incorporating raw meat into your pet’s diet through a topper or by switching them to a completely raw diet. We recommend you transition your pet slowly over the course of a couple of weeks or even longer. Once your dog or cat is fully adjusted, you’ll see a pet with more vitality, more energy and less cravings. Many pet parents also notice their dog or cat slim down and build muscle just from the improved diet alone.

Will My Dog or Cat Be Unhappy On a Diet? 

In between your pet’s healthy meals, it’s critical to fight the urge to share your human food with Fido. If you’re used to tossing your pup some popcorn or letting your kitty have bologna, this could be the most difficult part of helping your obese dog or cat lose weight. You may even worry that your beloved pet will feel neglected if you heartlessly ignore those pleading puppy eyes.

Trust us: as people passionate about pet food, we KNOW that food is love! We know it’s hard to resist the whining, the pawing at your leg, the meowing and purring, all the cute little things your pet does to melt your heart and coerce you into sharing your BLT. 

In times when it’s difficult to stay strong, remember that your kitty or pup depends on you to do what’s best for them. Being obese isn’t just bad for your pet’s overall health — it hurts their day-to-day happiness, too. 

A bite of salami may make your dog happy, but only for a second. What would make him truly happy every day would be chasing a ball without wheezing for breath, or sniffing the whole block without getting tired at the end of the street. Your cat would be much happier if she were able to pounce and run and climb like she was born to do. In fact, what makes your pet happier than anything in the world is spending time with YOU, their #1 pal. 

Being overweight or obese takes years off your pet’s life, but every step you take together towards reaching a healthy weight gives you those years back! So don’t fall for your fur-baby’s guilt-trip. Pet dechonkification isn’t always easy, but helping your obese cat or dog lose weight is worth it for more games of fetch, more sloppy kisses or more cuddles on the couch.

How to Tell if Your Dog or Cat is Obese

Pet obesity is a widespread problem that leads to very painful diseases and injuries. It’s so common in dogs and cats that sometimes it’s hard to tell if your pet is just a little chubby or seriously at risk.

With a veterinarian’s assistance and a committed pet parent, it’s possible to drop the pounds and add on more years to your fur-baby’s life. If you’re the parent of a porky pet, consider making a change to their diet or routine this Pet Obesity Awareness Day so that your best bud is happier, healthier and spends more time by your side!

Did Vital Essentials help your chonky dog or cat become a lean machine? We’d love to hear about it! Send us your story and photos of your pet’s transformation!