Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
Pet obesity has skyrocketed in recent years, as many owners conflate food with love, causing them to feed their pets way too many treats, scraps, and kibble. Unfortunately, this is about as far from loving behavior as you can get. Obesity is terrible for pets, regardless of species, and it can lead to all manner of health issues.
While many people may realize this, few realize the true extent of the problem. We will take a better look at the obesity epidemic affecting our pets. After all, we can’t solve a problem before we understand it.
Top 10 Pet Obesity Statistics
- Vets estimate that as many as 59% of all pets are obese.
- Over the past 10 years, there has been a 169% increase in the number of overweight cats and a 158% increase in the number of overweight dogs.
- As many as 37% of all dogs are overweight by the time that they’re 6 months old.
- The obesity epidemic is also affecting pets in developing nations, with 44% of all canines in China being classified as obese.
- Neutered pets are 200% more likely to be obese.
- The risk of obesity in pets increases according to the age of both the owner and the animal.
- Overweight owners are more likely to have overweight pets.
- Obese pets live 2.5 years shorter on average than their non-obese counterparts.
- Obesity is a major risk factor for several other diseases.
- Being overweight causes emotional stress and physical pain in pets.
The Obesity Epidemic at a Glance
1. Vets estimate that as many as 59% of all pets are obese.
(Association for Pet Obesity Prevention)
The problem isn’t that a small minority of pets are obese; the problem is that most of them are. While this is obviously bad news for millions of pets, it has the unfortunate side effect of potentially making the problem worse.
As pet obesity becomes more commonplace, it also becomes normalized. This makes owners less likely to see their pet’s weight as being problematic, and therefore, they’ll be less likely to take action to solve it. This can have debilitating effects on the animal that will only worsen as they age.
2. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 169% increase in the number of overweight cats and a 158% increase in the number of overweight dogs.
(Banfield Pet Hospital)
The obesity problem isn’t static but it’s getting worse—and it’s getting worse quickly. The number of obese and overweight pets has exploded in recent years, which may be due in part to the normalization effect.
It’s likely that the root cause of this explosion in pet obesity is multifaceted, with different causes all contributing different amounts. Regardless, this is one trend that needs to be reversed just as quickly as it came on.
3. As many as 37% of all dogs are overweight by the time that they’re 6 months old.
(The Veterinary Record)
Old age is a major risk factor for pet obesity, but the numbers show that it’s far from the only cause. Many dogs are already overweight before they leave puppyhood, and the fault for that can likely be laid squarely on their owners.
Being overweight as a young pup can have devastating effects on the dog. Not only will it potentially set them up for a lifetime of obesity, but the added stress on developing bones and joints can also lead to painful health conditions later in life.
4. The obesity epidemic is also affecting pets in developing nations, with 44% of all canines in China being classified as obese.
(Preventive Veterinary Medicine)
When many people think about obese pets, they assume that it’s the ultimate first-world problem. However, the numbers in China have shown that pets in developing countries are just as likely to be dangerously overweight as any other companion animal.
The reasons for pet obesity in developing nations haven’t been thoroughly studied, but at first glance, they seem to be the same reasons that cause pet obesity everywhere: too much food and not enough exercise.
Risk Factors Affecting Obesity
5. Neutered pets are over twice as likely to be obese.
(Pet Nutrition Alliance)
This is a sneaky cause of obesity that may be one of the drivers of the increase in pet obesity. Sterilized pets have lower metabolic needs than non-altered animals, so if you feed a neutered animal the same amount of food, they’ll pack on excess weight while their unaltered counterparts stay lean.
This isn’t to tell you not to spay or neuter your pet. In fact, we’re hopeful that the increase in pet obesity is partially due to an increased number of sterilized animals. If you do neuter your pet, though, consider lowering their caloric intake accordingly.
6. The risk of obesity in pets increases according to the age of both the owner and the animal.
(World Small Animal Veterinary Association)
This one seems easy to understand. As animals age, they’re less active, so if you feed them the same amount that you always have, that unused energy will be converted to fat. It’s important to watch your pet’s waistline as they age, and don’t be afraid to lower the number of calories you give them if you notice that they are starting to get a bit pudgy.
Likewise, older owners are less likely to exercise their dogs. A sedentary lifestyle—especially if it’s a pampered one—is a recipe for a fat animal, so if you’re not up to exercising your pet, you might want to consider outsourcing the operation.
7. Overweight owners are more likely to have overweight pets.
(Frontiers in Veterinary Science)
This fact seems quite cut-and-dry. Like the elderly, obese owners are less likely to spend time exercising their pets. They’re also less likely to eat healthy, and if they share scraps with their pets, those animals will see their weight increase too.
The good news is that owning a pet is a great way to inspire yourself to lose weight. Going for walks with a companion animal will be wonderful for the both of you, and it’s easier to eat healthy when you have a buddy that’s doing the same.
Dangers of Obesity
8. Obese pets live 2.5 years shorter on average than their non-obese counterparts.
(Banfield Pet Hospital)
The exact link between obesity and shortened lifespans in pets isn’t clear, but the ultimate fact of the matter is that overweight pets don’t live as long as their leaner counterparts. Being obese can shave 2 1/2 years off your pet’s life, and since these animals don’t live that long to begin with, that’s quite the sacrifice.
If you want to maximize the amount of time that you get to spend with your pet, the science is clear: Keep their weight at a healthy, manageable level. To do otherwise is likely to condemn them to an early grave.
9. Obesity is a major risk factor for several other diseases.
Carrying too much extra weight won’t just reduce your pet’s lifespan but it will diminish their quality of life, too. Here are just a few of the diseases that have been linked to obesity in pets:
That’s only a partial list. A comprehensive look would take more space than we have here. If the possibility of spending more time with your pet isn’t enough to convince you to put them on a diet, perhaps increasing the quality of your years together will be.
10. Being overweight causes emotional stress and physical pain in pets.
(The Veterinary Journal)
You may not realize it, but an overweight pet isn’t happy. Sure, they may be delighted to receive a treat or a table scrap, but the cumulative effect of all those excess pounds can put a real damper on their enthusiasm for life.
According to one study, scores measuring vitality, levels of emotional disturbance, anxiety, and pain were all negatively affected by carrying excess weight. Your pet’s quality of life drops dramatically as their waistline expands.
The good news is that those scores can all improve if the animal loses weight, so there is hope.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Obesity
How Can I Tell If My Pet Is Overweight?
This is a tricky question. For one thing, despite the devastating consequences that obesity can have on our pets, there isn’t a formal recognition of obesity as a disease in the veterinary world. That means two experts can disagree on whether an animal is overweight without either of them being objectively wrong.
Also, many vets are afraid to tell owners that their pets are overweight. This can be due to fear of an angry reprisal, as an animal’s weight can be a touchy subject with their owner, or it can be due to fear of losing the owner as a client.
Still, the best way to determine if your pet needs to lose weight is to ask your vet. If you’d like to get a better idea on your own, eyeball their body shape. They should have a clearly defined waist, and their ribs should be easy to feel without being clearly visible.
How Much Should I Feed My Pet to Prevent Them From Becoming Obese?
Unfortunately, we can’t give you a cookie-cutter answer to this question. The answer will depend on a host of variables, including their species and breed, age, and activity level.
Your best bet is to ask your vet what they recommend. You can also read the instructions on the food that you serve them; many foods will include recommended measurements (usually by age) on the bag or container somewhere. Your vet can work with you to create the best meal plan for your pet.
How Much Exercise Does My Pet Need?
It’s impossible to give a blanket answer to this question. That will depend on their age, overall health, and more. Talk to your vet to see what they recommend.
As a general rule, though, you should aim for at least a 1/2 hour of physical activity per day. That number could go up dramatically if you have an energetic dog breed, for example, or down if you have a pet that doesn’t need much exercise at all.
Rather than focus on the amount of time that your pet exercises, though, it may be a good idea to focus on providing them with the right type of exercise. Pick something that your pet likes to do and that won’t be too hard on their body. If they have existing health issues, take those into account.
How Much Weight Can My Pet Safely Lose?
This will depend on the pet, but keep in mind that weight loss should be a gradual process — you don’t want them dropping 20 pounds in a month or anything like that.
Instead, a good guideline for a dog is to lose 1%–3% of their weight in a month, whereas a cat should be able to lose 0.5%–2% every month. For smaller pets, ask your vet; the number should still be expressed as a percentage, so don’t expect massive changes from one month to the next.
Whatever you do, don’t put your pet on a crash diet, as losing too much weight too fast can be life-threatening. Most successful diets are “step plans” that involve gradually reducing how much food you serve your pet over a number of months. (Anti-cruelty.org)
Becoming obese was likely a long process for your pet; recovering from that obesity will take time too.
Is There Ever a Time When an Obese Pet Shouldn’t Be Put on a Diet?
Yes. There are times when a calorie-restrictive diet should be avoided. These include pets suffering from certain illnesses (like cancer, renal disease, or cardiac dysfunction) or pets that are pregnant or nursing.
These animals likely need all the nutrients that they can get, so treating their obesity will likely have to wait until their other issues are resolved.
As always, talk to your vet before doing anything drastic in regard to your pet’s health. Their doctor will be able to tell you whether a diet is necessary and if so, the best way to go about doing it.
Obesity is a major problem facing today’s pets, both in America and around the world. Unfortunately, the problem only seems to be getting worse, so major effort is needed to turn the epidemic around.
As an individual, there may not be much that you can do for the millions of overweight pets around the world, but you can do your part by taking care of the animals that you have at home. Take care to ensure that they stay at a healthy weight, and be sure to provide them with a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise.
After all, if everyone follows your lead, the pet obesity crisis could be over just as quickly as it began.
Featured Image Credit: Boryana Manzurova, Shutterstock