The Unspoken Pandemic: Obese Pets

Updated: Jul 14

I know that I speak for a large portion of pet parents when I say that as kids, we were raised with the idea that when you love someone, you feed them. Food is love, but according to a 2018 study done by APOP, 56% of pets in the US are overweight and/or obese.

In South Africa, we are seeing more and more pets struggle with obesity and the huge amount of health issues that come with this. There are plenty of reasons this may occur but what it really comes down to, same as humans, is that they are being fed too many calories for what they burn in a day.

PFMA released new data based on 2018/2019 studies and census done on over 8000 households, that revealed that 51% dogs and 44% cats were overweight and/or obese in the UK. Hills Pet Nutrition reported that vets in South Africa have confirmed that 50% of pets are overweight and/or obese.

While these stats are alarming, what causes pet obesity?

1.) Simply put, your pet is eating too much and burning too little. The leading cause is that your pet’s calorie intake per day is too high, and the activity levels or exercise is too little to balance out. Much like humans, pets need to eat within their requirements, and move daily to burn calories.

2.) For pets that are already overweight, there could be arthritis or joint disease aggravated by the excess kilo’s. Being leaner puts less pressure on joints and allows mobility to be easier and painless – but arthritic pets are usually overweight (especially if between 4 – 9 years) or geriatric patients (9+ years) that are not moving as much.

3.) Diseases like Hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease. These need to be diagnosed by your vet after extensive testing.

  • Hypothyroidism is a common endocrine disease in dogs where the result is a decreased production of hormones

  • Cushing’s Disease is when the adrenal gland secretes too much stress hormone, or cortisol.

4.) Another common cause is neutering or sterilization. While this is incredibly important for your pet’s health, and it is a gazetted law in South Africa as of 2022, the reality is that most pet parents do not make any adjustments to their pet’s life after this procedure.

  • The loss of androgens and estrogens (sex hormones) can cause a decrease in your pet’s metabolic rate so their energy needs are lower. Feeding the right diet, calories and exercising your pet daily will wad off the extra weight.

  • For cats, make meal times fun! Let them hunt for their food. Also make sure you get in plenty of play-time and get them moving around and running and jumping.

Unpopular opinion, but having an overweight pet is not a good thing! Killing with kindness does exist – and it comes in the shape of arthritis, hip and elbow issues, structural deformities and pain, heart, and other vital organ disease etc.

How do you know your pet is overweight?

There are a few things to look for in an ideal pet weight:

#1 – The bird’s eye view must be hourglass. Straight is overweight, rounded is obese.

#2 – You should be able to feel your pets’ ribs well with a thin layer of fat between the ribs and the skin. You should not have to press hard to feel the ribs. Seeing the last two ribs slightly is also good. Not being able to feel them at all means your pet is severely overweight.

#3 – The tummy should be tucked up from the chest in a side view. Straight across or levelled means that your pet is overweight.

#4 – Any excess fat rolls around the neck and hind when your pet is fully grown (excluding Rolly-Polly breeds like Bulldogs and Sharpei’s) is considered very overweight. Your pet needs to have a sleek and fit exterior.

What now, I have an overweight dog?

Well, now you need to reduce the calories your pet eats and increase their exercise. Feeding a species appropriate, high protein diet will boost the metabolism. Increasing physical activity is a must as well – to start burning off those extra kilo’s.

Long strolls and plenty of walks will do your pet justice and keep them slim and fit with happy and healthy joints and heart health. The most common diseases linked to overweight and obese pets is arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, and aiming for them to live their best lives should include keeping them lean and fit.

But my dog loves treats and expects them – what now?

Opt for lower calorie pet treats and remember – fresher is better!

Blueberries, apples, bananas – these are all great sweet fruit options that boast excellent nutrients but are low calorie snack options.


If your pet wants a biscuit and you want to give them a biscuit, then look at these options for lower calorie and healthier alternative ingredients for a daily biscuit treat.

Gizzls range

Probono Light

Probono Appetite Control

You must also keep in mind that treat calories count too – so if you have a big treat day, Fido needs to eat less with his meals so that he doesn’t overeat on his calories.

Love can be cuddles, pets, strolls, and naps together – it doesn't have to be just food and treats. We already had one pandemic, lets make sure the Pet Obesity Pandemic goes away too.

If you are really struggling with controlling your pet’s weight and diet, pop us an email on to book your pet nutrition consultation and join our weight clinic.

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