The Skinny on Fat, Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACN header

Highlights from The Skinny on Fat Obesity by Dr. Joe Bartges

A Big Problem

According to the 2018 National Pet Obesity Survey, around 55 – 60% of cats and dogs in the United States are considered overweight or obese. For pets, obesity is defined as 30% above ideal body weight.

Causes of Obesity

While several factors can contribute to obesity, weight gain is simply that intake is greater than activity. Not enough energy expenditure will eventually lead to increased weight.

Pets that are indoors and have low activity are more likely to be overweight. Factors like gender, breed, and age can also contribute to obesity. For dogs, females tend to be more overweight than males while in cats it’s reversed. Having an owner who is overweight also increases the likelihood the pet will be overweight or obese.

Complications of Obesity

There are numerous health risks associated with obesity including chronic inflammation, hypertension, osteoarthritis, cancer, and decreased lifespan. In addition to these serious health complications, obese pets also have increased risk of endocrinopathies, orthopedic issues, heart and lung problems, skin issues, and functional problems such as decreased mobility. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found in a study that dogs fed 25% fewer calories saw a 16% increase in life span.

Diagnosing Your Pet as Overweight

Diagnosing obesity can be difficult and requires a physical examination. In certain cases, what is believed to be obesity might be due to fluid retention from an underlying medical issue, a dense overcoat, or pregnancy.

A helpful way to determine whether your pet is overweight on your own involves inspecting your hands and relating them to your pet’s ribs and top of the spine. With a closed fist, rub your finger across your knuckles. If your pet’s ribs or top of spine feel like the dip between each knuckle, your pet is thin.

Now, with your hand flat, rub your finger across your knuckles and notice there is not an extreme dip between the bones. If this is what your pet’s ribs or top of spine feels like, your pet’s weight is ideal. Finally, flip your hand over with your palm facing up. Notice how when rubbing you can’t feel the bones at all. If your pet’s ribs or top of spine feel like this, your pet is overweight.

For an in-depth diagnosis, your veterinarian will rule out any other medical conditions and use a body composition or muscle condition score to assess your pet’s weight.


Treating Uncomplicated Obesity

Weight loss is a team effort between you, your pet, and professionals. There are three main ways to achieve weight loss: intake control, caloric control, and metabolic control. Changing your pet’s food to a lower calorie, higher fiber option while decreasing portion size and increasing exercise is the most comprehensive strategy.

Typically, animals should lose 1-2% of body weight per week. Weight gain and reduction are not linear. Time and consistency are key to your pet losing weight. Ultimately, it is easier to prevent weight gain in pets than it is to reduce weight.

Dr. Bartges’ Responses to Unanswered Questions from the Class

My dog seeks out a certain grass to eat. Should I give her vegetables to help with her digestion?

No one knows for certain why they eat grass. It’s possible that it’s digestion. It’s possible that it’s just a preferred texture. Vegetables likely won’t make much of a difference in this case.

What type of food would you recommend for a dog who has hip problems because she is overweight?

First, get the excess weight off of the pet. At that point, try a diet that is beneficial to her joints.
Hollywood Feed suggests also adding a joint supplement – like Prudence!


How can I get a thin dog to gain weight? She’s on a raw diet, she’s fed more than the other dogs and I try to limit her activity. She also has high anxiety and nervousness which contribute to her being thin.

Her current diet does not sound like it is working for her. She may have a problem with absorption, or she is just not getting what her body needs from the current diet. I would suggest getting her evaluated by a vet to make sure she’s healthy & parasite free. Then, check to make sure she is being fed the right amount of food for her body. If all is well, she may just need a totally different type of food. Anxiety is likely not contributing to her weight, at least not that much.

Hollywood Feed suggests goats milk from Answers, Primal or The Honest Kitchen to add weight and calming supplements like Progility or Heavenly Hounds for her anxiety!

What are good feeding toys/puzzles for cats, and is that a good option for dogs as well?

Dog puzzle toys are often just as good for cats!! In fact, some highly intelligent herding dogs have had trouble figuring out some puzzle toys – but when given to the cats, they were a perfect fit! I suggest starting out with a lower difficulty puzzle toy so that your pet doesn’t get too frustrated. Then, as they master that one – graduate to a harder one!

Hollywood Feed suggests trying a Bob-a-lot or a Kong Wobbler!

How much less food do you need to feed?

In most situations, you start by estimating the pet’s ideal weight. Then, calculate the amount of food needed to meet their resting energy requirements & feed that amount to induce weight loss. Be sure to do this under the guidance of your veterinarian to ensure your pet is losing a healthy amount of weight at the appropriate rate.

How well do cats digest dairy?

Cats actually digest dairy quite well. The closer they are to birth, the better, because they had just recently been nursing. The lactase enzyme is still present in their system, so if they are reintroduced, they usually maintain the ability to digest it quite well.

Hollywood Feed suggests goats’ milk!

What is a good toy that a golden retriever would like that gives them exercise?

Provide something that they can retrieve! This will keep them entertained and moving!

Hollywood Feed suggests toys like Chuck It!, Petsafe Automatic Ball Launcher, Tennis Balls, Kong Frisbees, and Mammoth Rope Toys!

What are some good exercises to do with my dog besides walking and running?

Get with a professional trainer to get your dog more active! If you are not able to walk or run, try a long game of fetch or tug-of-war. Even better, try some of these activities in the water!

Hollywood Feed suggests fun, waterproof toys like Chuck It!


What is a kcal and how do I convert it to normal calories for my customers?

Kcal is 1,000 calories. For the most part, when dealing with food, people are often referring to kcals rather than calories – so there is often no need to convert.

How do you recommend animal care professionals address weight issues with clients when they say the vet says the weight is fine?

In all honesty, vets and nurses are ALSO trying to avoid this awkward conversation. It’s not uncommon for some vets to wait until the client asks for their advice on their pet’s weight. As a person in the animal industry, politely urge these pet parents to discuss their pet’s weight at their next vet appointment. Use the body condition score to reference this visually. If the pet parent asks their vet about the weight, the vet will be happy to finally have that conversation and provide a plan.

I have an 11-month-old AmStaff Mastiff female. She has been on a PMR diet since December and is thriving, but (1) I want to make sure she’s getting all she needs, nutrition-wise and (2) is just cutting back on her 80-10-10 amount of feed enough for her to lose weight? She is 97lbs and her professional trainer believes she’s too heavy.

Prey model raw food diets are supposed to mimic eating freshly caught prey with the 80:10:10 (muscle meat:bone:organs). First, be sure that the chosen diet is complete and balanced and meets all of the nutritional requirements. For instance, bones don’t necessarily provide calcium. You often see bone meal in pet food diets to ensure calcium is being provided. If calcium is low in the diet, it’s possible that there is an imbalance of calcium:phosphorous. You also need to be sure that the meat you’ve chosen is not too high in fat. For instance, you could have an usually low in fat protein like beef, but the marbling in the beef could be high – meaning that slab of beef could be too high in fat. Talk with your vet about the details of your pet’s diet and be sure that this is providing everything they need in the correct amounts.

What is the best diet adult dog food for small dogs (chihuahuas) with a small sized kibble?

There is not one ‘best’ dog food. Every pet has different needs. Look at the pet food labels, call the companies, and make a decision based on how your dog seems to be handling the diet.

Hollywood Feed carries a variety of small breed diet food. We’d be happy to make recommendations based on what your dog needs.

Do you recommend a certain dog food to help a 5-year-old Golden Retriever from getting health problems that they are noted for getting or a supplement?  Thanks!!

Goldens typically get cancer, lymphoma, skin disease, DCM (may have a taurine deficiency). Very few, if any, studies look into prevention. Most studies are about treating the disease. I may recommend feeding a diet that is higher in protein than the average adult dog food. Goldens tend to be active dogs and we want to retain their muscle mass.

Hollywood Feed suggests adding a probiotic supplement to your dog’s diet, like Prudence Absolute Immune Health or Healthy Essentials Probiotic Spray.

Does coconut oil really help with shedding? What about grape seed or fish oil?

Not sure about grape seed oil or coconut oil, but fish oil could be great for multiple issues such as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic (if certain dosage used), or even arthritis.

Hollywood Feed suggests Prudence Complete Skin and Coat with Krill Oil!

What’s a good weight gain (weekly) for kittens just weaned?

Gain about 100 grams a week until about 5-6 months of age. Males gain about 125-150 grams/week. Females gain about 100 grams/week.

Would it be better to not neuter or spay your pet just to cut out the obesity risk? Is something like a vasectomy a better idea?

Generally, I suggest to wait until a certain age or life stage before spaying/castrating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *