Is My Dog or Cat Overweight?

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A note before we begin: Please consult with your veterinarian BEFORE making any changes to your pet’s diet or exercise regime OR if you notice that your pet has lost or gained weight when you haven’t changed their food or exercise levels.

There’s no question that being overweight or obese causes increased health risks for both cats and dogs. But, how can you tell if your pet could stand to lose a little weight? Saying that an “average” cat weighs between 9 and 12 lbs or that Labrador Retrievers typically weigh between 65 and 80 lbs really doesn’t tell you very much. There are cats that would be a little “plump” at 9 lbs, while others would be super-skinny at 12 lbs. Whether an individual animal is overweight at a certain number of lbs depends on a variety of factors, including the animal’s age, activity level, and muscular/skeletal structure.

So, how do you determine if your cat or dog is overweight? Obviously, the easiest way is to check with your veterinarian during your pet’s annual wellness exam. But, there is also a way that you can keep an eye on your pet’s weight between exams that doesn’t involve trying to get Spot to get on the scale. It’s called a Body Condition Score (or BCS). Basically, it’s a way of determining the overall fitness of a dog or cat based upon some simple things to look/feel for on your pet’s body. (If you’ve ever watched any of Animal Planet’s Animal Cops shows, you’ve probably heard the officers talking about body condition scores.)

There’s more than one BCS system out there, and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. But to make things easier, we’ve found a couple for you. (Both of the links below use both written descriptions and drawings to help you know what to look for.)

Dr. Sophia Yin wrote a blog entitled “Is Your Dog Fit or Fat? Learn How to Body Condition Score Him” that describes the basics of how to use a BCS to check on your dog’s weight.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has one-page Body Condition Score sheets for both dogs and cats on their page Pet Weight Check.

If you find that your pet is a little (or maybe even a lot) overweight, or if you think your pet might be getting too skinny, please consult with your veterinarian BEFORE beginning any changes to your pet’s diet or exercise regime. Changes in a pet’s weight, especially when you haven’t changed how much he/she is eating or exercising, need to be checked out to make sure there are no underlying health problems. Additionally, weight loss in pets must be handled slowly and carefully (especially in cats) to ensure that no other health problems occur.