Are You Part of the Fat Pet Gap?


Have you heard of the ‘fat pet gap’? It can be a major obstacle in tackling obesity in our pets. The ‘fat pet gap’ refers to the situation when an owner of an obese pet sees their pet’s weight as normal. In the 8th Annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey, a large number of pet owners did not view their overweight pets as fat. In fact, 90% of owners of overweight cats, and 95% of owners of overweight dogs felt their pets were at a normal weight!

At Lawndale Veterinary Hospital, we do see a lot of overweight dogs and cats. And yes, we do sometimes surprise owners when we tell them their pet could lose some weight. Owners may not easily recognize overweight pets unless they know what to look for. Here are some of the big clues:

Weight Gain: The scale creeping up is the most obvious clue your pet is gaining weight. Although you may not have a pet scale at home, if your pet is small enough to hold you can weigh yourself and then weigh yourself holding your pet. Subtract the difference and you have your pet’s approximate weight. Alternatively, especially for larger dogs that need to be weighed on the clinic scale, bring your pet in any time for a weight check. There is no charge for this, and it’s the perfect opportunity for a ‘happy visit’ to the veterinary clinic.

Body Condition Score: The number on the scale is only one part of the equation of whether your pet is overweight. We also need to evaluate how your pet’s body condition looks – this is called body condition scoring. Generally speaking, we like to see a ‘waistline’ where the rib cage meets the abdominal region. Additionally, when we feel over the ribs, we want to be able to feel the ribs fairly easily without having to press too deeply.

Here is an analogy that might help:

  • Hold your hand out flat, palm facing down. Look at your knuckles where your fingers meet your hand. The ratio you see of soft tissue to bone is similar to what we want to see in a pet when we look and feel over their ribs.
  • Now, keeping your palm facing down still, make a fist. Again, look at the same knuckles. This appearance is similar to how an animal’s ribs would look if the animal were too thin.
  • Finally, flip your hand so your palm is facing up. Look at the same knuckles (which you can’t really see now because of the extra padding). The amount of fat/ tissue over your knuckles is similar to how an overweight animal’s ribs feel. The more overweight they are, the more ‘padding’ we feel before we get to ribs.

Body Measurements: Measuring the circumference of areas such as your dog or cat’s chest or abdomen can further clarify whether your pet is overweight. Additionally, the measurements can be followed over time to see if the values are decreasing as the weight loss plan is implemented.

Next time your pet is in for an examination, be sure to have one of our doctors evaluate your pet’s weight and body condition. We can give you pointers and discuss whether your pet could stand to lose some weight. After reading through this blog and thinking about your own pet, perhaps you have already decided it is time for a weight loss plan of action. Then schedule an appointment today! Our doctors can work with you to formulate a weight loss plan that can succeed. Be sure to ask us about our Weight Loss Incentive Program!

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Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS