Obesity in pets is defined as >36% body fat. Even more specifically, it can be defined by a high Body Condition Score (BCS). In veterinary medicine, it is important to measure body condition, because it takes into consideration the breed and shape of the body as opposed to just the weight.

The prevalence of obesity in dogs and cats is increasing every day. Around the world, about 22% to 40% of pets are obese.1-5 In the United States, approximately one in three dogs seen by a veterinarian is obese.6

Obesity is the leading risk factor for feline diabetes mellitus, an increasingly common disease now affecting one out of every 400 cats. “Overweight or obese cats are two to four times more likely to develop diabetes than cats with a healthy body weight,” says board-certified veterinary nutrition specialist Dorothy Laflamme, DVM, PhD, DACVN.

More and more pet owners have the same physique, so their perception of what a normal weight looks like may be skewed. Some veterinarians even feel uncomfortable discussing weight issues with overweight owners who have overweight pets. When veterinarians are overweight themselves, these discussions may be either easier (shared experience) or more difficult (guilt). Since our patients are our priority, we must find ways to make clients aware of the physical status of their pets in order to get to the root of the problem.

While clients know that obesity causes many ailments in people and pets, they have many excuses and reasons to skirt around the issue, or else may totally deny their animal’s weight. One approach is to not mention weight at the outset, but rather focus on the whole animal and any health concerns, even small ones, he has.

• Ask clients in a genuinely inquiring way about their feeding regimens. What diet are they feeding their pets? Is it a processed diet, homemade, raw or cooked meat, commercial frozen raw meat, dehydrated raw, etc.? How much and how often are they feeding their pets? What size cup are they using to measure out portions? Do the pets get table food or scraps in addition to their main meals? How many and what types of treats are being given daily? On the annual physical reminder card, suggest clients bring in the labels from any processed foods or treats they are feeding, and include these in their fi les. At this time, you can address the actual weight.

• The next thing to consider is whether or not there is an underlying medical issue that has caused the pet to be overweight. Most of my patients are not brought into the hospital because they are overweight, but for other reasons, such as osteoarthritis, skin issues, ear infections, diabetes or hypothyroidism. Usually when the underlying problem is identifi ed and resolved or managed, the pet begins to lose weight without any changes in diet or exercise.

• When feeding rituals and medical issues are ruled out as reasons for obesity, a more integrative approach may be necessary. This could include medications to decrease appetite, or acupuncture and herbals to help balance the body and rid it of phlegm (fat).