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Tackling Pet Obesity With Diet and Exercise

(March 23, 2022)

Like humans, too much downtime combined with too many calories can result in some extra pounds. However, unlike humans, just a few pounds can be dangerous to our furry friends. Pet obesity is a big problem, affecting 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats in the United States, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Is my pet suffering from pet obesity?

Depending on a lot of factors, it can be difficult to assess if your pet is truly overweight. Make an appointment with your family veterinarian to be sure. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners said their pet’s weight was normal when it was actually overweight or obese.

At the Houston SPCA, our veterinarians BCS score all of our incoming pets. This stands for Body Condition Score, and as Dr. DeChant tells every Texas A&M veterinary student that visits us for their shelter medicine rotation, you cannot accurately score a pet’s body condition without laying hands on them.

Dr. Westbrook goes into more detail on the FOX 26 and Houston SPCA Pet Pawcast below!

However, if you’d like to assess your pet’s body condition at home first, here are some things to look for that could indicate your pet is overweight:

  • You cannot easily feel their ribs and spine. There is excess fat covering these areas.
  • Their waist is not prominent when viewed from above.
  • An abdominal tuck (waist tucked up when viewed from the side) may still be seen, but it is not prominent.

Signs of more severe pet obesity include:

  • A heavy layer of fat covers the ribs. The ribs may be felt with significant pressure, or not at all.
  • No waist or abdominal tuck can be seen.
  • Fat deposits on the neck, back, and base of tail.
  • Abdomen may be distended.

An ideal weight can be noticed from the following:

  • An obvious waist and abdominal tuck.
  • Minimal fat covering ribs.
  • Ribs can be easily felt under the skin.

My pet needs to lose weight. Now what?

So you’ve realized that although your pet looks mostly normal, they’re a little above the ideal body condition. Tackle pet obesity by taking a look at the tips below.


You don’t need to formulate a special diet just yet. First, take a look at the serving sizes on the back of your pet food bag. If you haven’t already, start measuring your pet’s food at every meal. You can form an accurate picture of their calorie intake this way.

Train your pet to eat all of their food when the bowl goes down. Discourage free feeding.

If you have any questions about how much you should reduce your pet’s food intake, consult your family veterinarian.

ADOPT: Browse our available pets!


You knew it was coming! Exercise comes next on the list. A sedentary pet taking in slightly more calories than needed is a recipe for pet obesity. If your beloved pet is a couch potato, it’s time to grab that leash.

Start with a daily walk around the block with your dog and build up on time and distance. Don’t throw them into a heavy exercise routine right away. Depending on their breed, they may be able to accompany you on a jog when they’re ready. If they like other animals, a trip to the dog park for some playtime can also serve as some exercise.

Cats can be encouraged to move more by placing their food around the house so they need to “hunt”. Call them to follow you when you walk to a different room. Break out the cat teaser toys and set aside some playtime each day.

Houston SPCA is grateful to you for caring deeply about your pet and their health! With these tips and advice, you’ll be able to get them on the right track to a long and happy life.

To report animal cruelty, call 713-869-SPCA (7722) or file a report online.

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