Karen "Doc" Halligan


Your pet is overweight if it's 10% to 15% over ideal weight, and obese if it's 15% to 20% above ideal weight. How do you tell if your pet is over its ideal weight? There is so much individuality even among the varying breeds that the best way to tell is to look at and feel your pet. Chances are if you can pinch an inch, your pet is overweight. If you're not sure, take your pet to the vet and ask for the doctor's opinion. Don't rely on "experts" at the dog park or family and friends reassuring you that your chubby domestic shorthair feline is okay.

Remember, when it comes to cats and dogs, a small amount of extra weight can be significant. For example, an 18-pound dog or cat that should normally weigh 15 pounds is considered obese, even though it's only overweight by three extra pounds! Those three extra pounds to that 18-pound animal are the equivalent of 40 extra pounds on an average female. An extra five pounds on a cat or dog that should weigh, say, 17 pounds are the equivalent of 50 extra pounds on a 170-pound person.

You should be able to easily feel, but not see, your pet's backbone and ribs. Start by moving your fingers back and forth across your pet's sides or rib cage. If you can't feel the ribs, or more than a thin layer of fat is covering them, your pet is probably overweight. The fatter your dog or cat becomes, the thicker this layer of fat will be. Fat will also deposit in the "love handle" areas over the back, hips, base of tail, and abdomen. Actually feeling your cat or dog is important, because in animals with thick or longhaired coats, it can be difficult to tell if your pet is overweight just by looking.

Next, do a profile check. Your pet should have a "tuck" in its tummy, beginning just behind the last ribs and going up into the hind legs or thighs. In an obese pet, the stomach will hang down and there will be no tuck. Viewed from above, your pet should have an hourglass figure with a noticeable waist just before the hips at the end of the rib cage. Animals that are overweight do not have discernible waists and often have abdomens that protrude from their back and sides; they also have a distinct waddle as they walk.

Putting your cat or dog on a scale is certainly a good way to compare and contrast its weight as well as give you a starting point and a target goal. However, the problem with weighing your pet as the sole measure of determining if it's overweight is that there's so much variation among breeds, and with so many mixed breeds there are no accurate body weight charts. Also, since fat is lighter than muscle, if your pet has less muscle and more stored fat on its body, the resulting weight may seem normal, when in reality your pet is still visibly overweight. Conversely, a muscular, lean, well-toned dog or cat may actually weigh more than a chubby, less muscular dog or cat of the same size. Therefore, it's more accurate to look at your pet's appearance and to actually feel its body.

As a rule, the body weight of your cat or dog when it was young (between 1 and 2 years old) is considered to be its ideal weight. Look at pictures of your pet when it was younger. Do you see a noticeable difference?

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