You are what you eat – The Obesity Epidemic

Obesity is one of the most frequent issues seen in our NZ pet population, with over 40% of dogs and 30% of cats estimated to be clinically overweight or obese 1,2.  It is well known that obesity can cause severe diseases such as arthritis and diabetes, as well as result in a substantial reduction in quality of life through reduced energy levels and general poor health.  A clear indication of the problems obesity can cause is demonstrated in one study where Labradors that were only moderately overweight were found to need treatment for arthritis 3 years early than lean Labradors, with the overweight dogs also then dying 2 years earlier 3!  This all means that it is vital to PREVENT obesity in the first instance or, if we are too late, recognise that obesity is present and act promptly to TREAT it as you would any other significant disease.

Prevention involves a holistic approach: good diet, controlled treats and plenty of exercise.  If that sounds familiar it’s because cats and dogs are not all that different from us!  We would always recommend a super-premium food such as Royal Canin or Hills because they are made from human grade ingredients processed to human food standards, they have an unbelievable amount of testing to ensure optimal nutrition and palatability and they have a consistent formulation that doesn’t change from bag to bag.  They also offer a guarantee should your pet decide they don’t like it.

Treats are important in training and an enjoyable part of pet ownership but we should not overdo it and also avoid linking the giving of treats to an expression of love or improved care.  Good treats can be a portion of a pet’s normal diet that is held back to give between meal times.  Low calorie treats such as carrot can be great in dogs and it is important to avoid high fat treats.  A single sausage given to a 10kg dog is the equivalent of an adult eating 3 burgers, even a single biscuit is equivalent to 1 burger!  It’s the same for cats with a small 30g piece of cheese being equivalent to over 2 burgers!

A clear sign that your pet is getting podgy is a loss of waist and abdominal tuck, as well as an increased amount of cover over the ribs making them harder to feel without using pressure.  If this is the case then it is vital to act.  In the early stages this can involve simply cutting out treats and feeding 10 -15% less than the recommended amount of their normal diet until they are back to their healthy weight.  If this fails, or if your pet is obese, then switching them to a specific weight loss diet such as Hills Metabolic or Royal Canin Satiety under the guidance of your veterinary team will give your pet the best chance of recovery, helping prevent disease and improving their quality of life.

Dr Alex Avery BVSc

If you are concerned your pet may be overweight, or would like them checked over, then your friendly Vetlife team is only a phone call away. Contact us here


1 McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, et al. 2005. Prevalence of obesity in dogs examined by Australian Veterinary Practices and the risk factors involved. Vet Rec 156:695-707; Statistics adjusted for NZ pet population from the NZ Companion Animal Survey 2011
2 McGreevy PD, Thomas PC, et al. Overweight or Obese Cats Presented to Australian Veterinary Practices: Risk Factors and Prevalence. Aust Vet Practice 38(3) 98-107.
Hill’s trial data on file, 2011
3 Kealy, R.D. et al, 2002. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 220:1315–1320