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Veterinarians reveal 9 signs your pet could be overweight

Sophia Mitrokostas , Business Insider US
 Feb 17, 2020, 05:55 PM
Owning a pet can be a wonderful experience, but it also comes with many responsibilities.
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  • There are certain subtle signs that a pet is overweight.
  • If your pet's back is perfectly flat it could be a sign they are obese.
  • A dirty, messy coat can be a sign that your pet has gained too much weight to be able to properly groom themselves.
  • If your pet sits down at every opportunity or is walking differently, they could be overweight.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Chubby pets may look cute, but that extra squishiness can sometimes lead to long-term health problems and even life-threatening medical conditions.

For starters, overweight pets are at risk of joint and back problems, inflammation, and dangerous heart and lung dysfunction.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be tough to figure out if your own pet could stand to lose some weight.

And so, Insider consulted with registered veterinarians to round up some signs your pet could be overweight.

Keep in mind that although this information can be useful, if you're ever unsure of your pet's health or want to change up their diet you should always schedule a real-life consultation with an expert.


If your pet's collar keeps getting tighter, they could be overweight.

Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, chief veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital and veterinary medical advisor for Rover, told Insider that a too-tight collar can be one of the first signs of a weight problem.

"In the winter months, when we all get a little lazy and start packing on pounds, you may notice that your pet's collar or body harness is getting a little snug. Instead of just sizing up, this should lead pet parents to make weight loss a priority," said Greenstein.


One sneaky sign of obesity in pets is a matted or messy coat.

Shelly Zacharias, clinical veterinarian and vice president of medical affairs at Gallant, told Insider that a chubby pet may not be flexible enough to properly groom themselves.

"If your pet is overweight, they may not be able to reach all the areas they need in order to groom themselves. Even dogs do this. You will notice a hair coat that appears more oily than usual, and has flakes or mats," said Zacharias.

Overweight pets often have most trouble grooming the areas around the tail and lower back area. If your pet is looking unusually mangy, it might be time to check their weight.


If your pet is often constipated or gassy, they may be overweight and/or following a poor diet.

Unsurprisingly, a poor diet and a few extra pounds can lead to trouble digesting food.

"Being overweight, having decreased activity, or having excess abdominal fat can slow down the normal movement of the gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, can cause constipation or increased flatulence. An unhealthy diet with too much fat and not enough fiber can also cause these issues," said Zacharias.

It can be easy to incorporate more fiber into your pet's diet, but you may want to consult with a vet first.


Your pet may be a bit too heavy if can't find their waist.

Many pet owners will look to their animal's belly to gauge whether or not they're too chubby, but Jason Nicholas of Preventative Vet told Insider that veterinarians actually use something called the body composition score, or BCS, to figure out if a pet is overweight.

Part of the BCS system is to check for a pet's waist. If it's hidden by fat, that's not a good sign.

"Your pet should have a discernible waist. When viewed from the side, your pet's abdomen should 'tuck up' as it approaches the back legs. A view from above should show a clear delineation between the front and back," said Nicholas.

If your pet looks like a sausage with an abdomen that has a uniform circumference right down to the back legs, your pet is likely overweight.

Nicholas also added that pets with no waist at all may actually be obese, so you should schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible.


Just as your pet's belly shouldn't be uniformly round, their back should also feature some distinct curves when viewed from above.

"Your pet's back should absolutely not be perfectly flat. That means there certainly shouldn't be a large fat pad along their sides or near the baseof their tail. These so-called 'love handles' are a definite sign of obesity in your pet," said Nicholas.

If you look down at your pet and can't see any inward curvature near their back and front legs, it may be time to check in with a vet about making changes to your pet's diet and activity levels.


If you can't easily feel your pet's ribs, they could be overweight.

Nicholas explained to Insider that a dog or cat without detectable ribs is probably too pudgy.

"You should be able to feel their ribs easily, without having to press through a thick layer of fat. If there is an excessive layer of fat covering your pet's ribs, your pet is overweight," said Nicholas.

Conversely, a rib cage that is protruding through the abdomen with many visible rib bones may also be a sign that your pet is underweight. When in doubt, check with a vet.


A change in how your pet walks could signify a weight-related issue.

Sara Ochoa, veterinarian and veterinary consultant for DogLab, told Insider that a change in gait can sometimes signal a weight problem.

"When your pet gains weight, their abdomen also gets larger. This causes them to need to stand and walk a little differently," said Ochoa.

Though your chubby pet may still be able to get around just fine, carrying extra weight around isn't good for their joints or overall health. Keep an eye on their movement to catch any weight issues early.


You notice that your pet is panting more than usual.

It's normal for dogs to pant after exertion or in hot weather, but they shouldn't be panting if they're just walking around the house.

"Overweight dogs often pant more. The extra fat acts as a insulation for your dog. If they are overweight, they may paint more because they are hot from their fatty layer," said Ochoa.

Notably, if you notice your cat panting for more than a second or two after vigorous exercise, you should bring them to your vet as soon as possible - regular panting in cats is not normal, and can be a sign of pain, congestive heart failure, heartworm disease, respiratory infection, or asthma.


If your pet seems to take longer to stand up or sits down at the first opportunity, they could be overweight.

Mobility problems are often a subtle sign of excessive weight gain, Ochoa told Insider.

"When a pet gains weight, they are putting extra pressure on their joints. This can cause arthritis and they will often have problems standing," said Ochoa.

Trouble standing or sitting down is not always a sign of a weight problem, and could be a marker of a different medical condition.

Always take your pet to the vet if they seem to be struggling with mobility.

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