Pet Obesity Is A Major Health Issue for Our Pets – Please, Do What You Can to Help!

Pet Obesity Is A Major Health Issue for Our Pets – Please, Do What You Can to Help!

By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP

< A version of this article was published in the JAN24, FEB24 and MAR24 issues of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 2024-03-04 >

Please, Don’t Let Your Pet Suffer– Watch Their Weight

Dr. Karen Becker of barks&whiskers reported that obesity is the number one health threat facing dogs and cats in the U.S. in a blog post on January 15th, 2023, Obesity continues to be the greatest health threat to pets, in that it kills millions prematurely, creates immense pain and suffering, and costs tens of millions of dollars in avoidable veterinary expenses.”

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reported that in the U.S., 59% of dogs and 61% of cats were classified as overweight or obese in 2022.

The APOP 2022 report also noted that:

·         Consistent with previous surveys, many dog and cat owners failed to recognize excess weight or overweight body conditions in their pets. Nearly one-third (32%) of owners of overweight or obese pets (BCS 6-9) classified their pet as “normal,” “ideal,” or “thin” body condition when asked by their veterinary professional.

·         36% of dog owners considered their pet’s body condition “normal” when their veterinary professional classified it as BCS 6-9 (overweight to obesity).

·         28% of cat owners considered their pet’s body condition “normal” when their veterinary professional classified it as BCS 6-9 (overweight to obesity).

·         49% of respondents reported that their veterinary professionals discussed their pet’s ideal or healthy weight yearly, compared to 46% in 2021. This suggests that half of those in the veterinary profession do not even discuss a pet’s weight with their clients.


Why Should You Care If Your Dog Is Obese?

Obesity contributes to the following diseases found in cats and dogs, all of which make for more expensive veterinary bills and, potentially, a low quality of life and an earlier death.

Health issues for dogs related to obesity include:

Arthritis, osteoarthritis, bladder and urinary tract disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, kidney disease, liver disease, orthopedic disorders (elbow, hip, and shoulder dysplasia), reproductive disease, respiratory disease, and skin disease.

Health issues for cats related to obesity include:

Arthritis, osteoarthritis, bladder and urinary tract disease, blindness (due to high blood pressure), cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, reproductive disease, respiratory disease, and skin disease.

A Warning from the Eighties

In the late eighties, a study examined how restricting a dog’s diet would affect its health and longevity. Forty-eight Labrador Retrievers were divided into two groups. All dogs were fed the same food from 8 weeks of age until their death. One group was fed per the manufacturer’s recommendation, while the second group was fed 25% less.

Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in May of 2002. It concluded that restricting food intake by 25% below the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines increased the median lifespan by almost two years and delayed the onset of signs of chronic disease in the food-restricted dogs.

What Can You Do to Keep Your Pet at a Healthy Weight?

As noted above, 36% of people with dogs believe their dogs were at an acceptable weight even when their veterinarian advised them their pet was overweight or obese. Sadly, considering 50% of the dogs a person sees are likely to be overweight or obese, this is not a surprise. We compare our dog to others we see and assume erroneously that our dog’s weight is “normal.”. Meanwhile, our dog suffers.

Rather than comparing your pet’s weight to other pets around you, please download these body condition charts from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention  –

I remember going to a few breed-specific events with one of my dogs years ago, and others there criticized me because my dog was underweight. One of those insinuating my dog was underweight commented, “It’s a good thing you don’t show in conformation; no judge would put up a scrawny thing like that.” Incidentally, my dog was at an ideal weight according to body condition charts and lived to be sixteen years old.

The fact that pet obesity is still a problem twenty years after a study indicated we are overfeeding our dogs is beyond sad. Equally disappointing is that 51% of veterinary professionals do not discuss a pet’s weight with their clients. The responsibility for the tragedy of pet obesity lies solely with human beings, both pet parents/owners and veterinarians. We must do better.



 How to Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight

Make your dog’s weight a family projectEveryone MUST be actively involved in monitoring your pet’s weight if you are to succeed. It only takes one of you sneaking the dog extra calories to make your dog obese.

Be proactive – Many people do not understand their pet is overweight; statistically, half the dogs they see are overweight. Use the body condition charts at ( ) and asses your dog weekly.

Weigh your dog at least once a monthAnnual weight checks at the vet are insufficient. Most of us do not have an appropriate scale for weighing our pets, so stop by your veterinarian’s office for a weigh-in. Green Acres Kennel Shop has a scale for clients to use as part of our Healthy Hounds Club. Bring your dog in when you pick up food or supplies and check their weight.

Follow the feeding guidelines for the food you feed your dog – By law, every pet food package must include feeding guidelines that indicate how much to feed your pet. These guidelines vary wildly between brands and formulas, so you must check them whenever you change what you feed. Companies almost always indicate a range for a pet at a specific weight, and I recommend you feed at the low end of the range. I’d rather have your dog underweight than one percent overweight. We know that dogs that are fed less live longer.

Do not FREE feed your dog – Leaving food out increases the likelihood of overeating and may delay your action when your dog is ill. A healthy dog always eats.

Accept that your dog is genetically programmed ALWAYS to be hungryIn other words, a healthy dog will NEVER refuse food, whether offered or scavenged. One day, my wife and I were working in the store and let our dog Gus join us. At one point, one of us said, “Where’s Gus?” We found him with a bag of dog food with a tiny tear that he enlarged. Our 18-pound dog had consumed four pounds of food. Please do not kill your dog with kindness by succumbing to those heart-wrenching pleas to feed them more.

Feed your dog a healthy diet by reducing or eliminating carbohydrates – Excessive consumption of carbohydrates plays a significant role in obesity for people and their pets. More importantly, dogs and cats do not need carbs, yet carbohydrates are a substantial ingredient in dry pet food (kibble). Carbs are in pet food for three reasons: 1) they provide more calories for fewer dollars than protein and fat (meat), creating higher profits for the manufacturer; 2) they are necessary to hold the kibble together; and 3) pet parents find kibble convenient and a healthy choice because the five biggest pet food companies; the Mars candy company, the Nestle candy company, Colgate-Palmolive, JM Smucker’s, and General Mills have brainwashed them. No matter what they say on TV, kibble is not optimal nutrition for a pet anymore than dry cereal is optimal nutrition for you.

This is what leading pet nutrition experts, including AAFCO, the quasi-regulatory agency that sets the rules for pet food, say about carbohydrates.

Dogs have no requirement for plant carbohydrate. – Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), 2016

There appears to be no requirement for carbohydrate [in dogs] provided enough protein is given.” – National Research Council (NRC), 2006

…there is no minimum dietary requirement for simple carbohydrates or starches for dogs and cats… – The Merck Veterinary Manual.

If you need help learning about healthy diets for your pet, talk to someone who understands the value of fresh foods. Every year, more scientific research suggests fresh, minimally processed foods are healthier for our pets. This should be no surprise as human nutritionists have told us the same about what we eat for years. Eat fresh food and avoid processed food. I conduct regular webinars on this topic. You can learn more at

Understand that everything your dog eats has calories – Besides monitoring your dog’s daily food ration, you need to monitor the treats they receive between meals.

Avoid Weight-Loss and Less Active Kibble Diets – A veterinarian often recommends a regular or even a “prescription” diet when a pet is overweight. Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian and author of The Forever Dog, states, “…the vast majority stick stubbornly to their misguided, uninformed advice to feed highly processed, starch-based diets.” I agree with Dr. Becker; why feed more carbs? Especially since Dr. Conor Brady’s review of the scientific literature on pet food revealed the following: The ideal weight loss diet for your dog is lower in calories, high in protein, lower in fat and zero carbohydrates. This will result in gradual weight loss but will retain lean body mass, crucial to the whole process.”

The Role of Treats and Exercise in Obesity

In addition to feeding our dogs daily, most of us also give our dogs treats. Treats are typically used for training because research indicates treats are the best reward for a dog. Sometimes, we also give dogs treats to satisfy their need to chew and or to keep them busy so we can get stuff done. Lastly, I expect every dog to be occasionally given treats for being cute, sweet, and wonderful.

I am not opposed to anyone treating their dog for any of the reasons above; however, they must understand that those treats contain calories. If your dog is overweight or obese and you want them to live a long life, you need to cut back on the treats. As I noted in the first part of this series, dogs fed less than 25% of the manufacturer’s recommended amounts did not starve to death; they lived longer and healthier lives. To give an obese dog a treat is potentially killing them with kindness.

I recommend you consider the following when evaluating any treat for your dog:

·         Determine the calories per treat from the package or a Google search before giving it to your pet.

·         If the caloric content per treat is high, the treats must be soft so you can easily break them up into pea-sized pieces.

·         Look for treats with 90% or greater meat content and little or no carbohydrates.

·         The ingredients panel must not contain any artificial ingredients or colors.

·         If you give a treat equivalent to 10% or more of your dog’s recommended daily calories, reduce what you feed them that day.

Here are my thoughts on various treats.

·         Training treats – In a 30-minute training session with a dog, you could quickly go through 60 treats. One of my favorite training treats is five calories per treat, so if I went through 60, it would account for 300 calories. That exceeds the recommended daily calories for a 20-pound dog. However, because that treat is soft, I can break a single treat into eight pea-sized pieces. Sixty of those tiny pieces only amount to 37.5 calories.

·         Dental treats – These treats help keep your dog’s teeth clean. They are made for those who are not good at brushing their dog’s teeth at least thrice weekly. Unfortunately, dental treats are often high in calories and have less than desirable ingredients. The large size of one dental treat is 139 calories, 13.6% of the caloric requirement for a 70lb dog! Other alternatives have better ingredients and fewer calories to keep your dog’s teeth clean.

·         Chewable & Consumable Treats – This category of treats is meant to be chewed and will often keep a dog busy for a few minutes or maybe more than an hour. Many treats, such as freeze-dried chicken necks and cod skins, have nutritional value. Because many of the treats are not man-made, their size and, thus, caloric content may vary.

o   Bully Stick, 6in, 88 calories on average.

o   No-Hide, large, 301 calories.

o   Turkey Neck, freeze-dried, 133 calories, on average.

·         Dog biscuits – Dog biscuits are sadly the universal dog treat. The large size of a famous brand accounts for 125 calories, 12.8% of the caloric needs of a 70lb dog. The ingredient lists for most treats in this category are filled with carbohydrates and other things we would classify as junk food. In other words, there’s nothing good here, especially for an overweight dog.

Exercise Matters

Typically, weight loss requires more than a change in diet. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that dogs need a minimum of 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic activity or exercise. If you suspect your dog is overweight or obese, I encourage you to have your veterinarian give your dog a complete physical evaluation before beginning an exercise program. FMI

In Memory of ‘B’

In 2000, a client brought his mother’s dog, ‘B,’ to us for boarding. His mom was having surgery and would then be spending a couple of months in rehab, and ‘B’ needed a place to stay.

We were immediately taken with ‘B’s sweet nature but were very concerned about his weight. A normal weight for his breed would have been 15 to 20 lbs. ‘B’ weighed over twice that. His legs bowed outward, and he shuffled when he walked, which was a struggle. There was no smile on this poor dog’s face as he was suffering. We asked for and were granted permission to see if we could slowly get him to a healthier weight.

I still vividly recall the day I saw ‘B’ running to greet me, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his ability to jump up on my legs. It was a beautiful sight.


Recommended Resources

Resources Cited in This Post

·         Body Condition Scoring Charts –

·       Association for Pet Obesity Prevention –


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Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( and the founder of, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Division. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at, the Apple Podcast app, and this blog. The opinions in this article are those of Don Hanson.

© Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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