The Most Common Health Threat to Dogs and Cats

You may think your pet is healthy, but the veterinarian says otherwise. Here’s what you may be getting wrong.

Weight is an important factor in pet health. By: Dan Perry

Is your pet at risk for the most common health threat?

There is a 53% chance your dog is implicated and a 58% risk your cat is affected. It’s a medical concern of epidemic proportions. And it is slowly killing our pets every day.

What is this threat? The risk of having an overweight pet.

To us, our pets are nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately, many people don’t see the potentially life-threatening health consequences of an overweight pet: hormonal diseases (diabetes), arthritis, hypertension, ACL tears, heart disease and tumors.

“Come on,” you might think, “an ACL tear is hardly life-threatening!”

This is true in most cases, but we have seen 2 situations where obesity led to patients dying after tearing their ACL.

By: Phatthanit Roengsamran


Montana was an obese Lab mix. He had both ACLs torn and could not get up. After a long heart-to-heart discussion, we decided that we could try to fix one leg to allow him to function and eliminate without soiling his skin every time.

After surgery, however, Montana never recovered well because of several complications related to his obesity (too complicated to explain here).

Ultimately, he died, though. He died because of consequences of extreme obesity. Yet his folks clearly loved him. This is what we mean when we say “killing with kindness.”

The Other Situation

The other situation happens all too often. An overweight dog tears an ACL. Her family cannot afford surgery. So she waits.

Meanwhile, this inactive dog gains more weight. She eventually tears the ACL in the other knee.

Now there’s a massively overweight dog who can’t function and is in severe pain. We have seen a number of such patients end up euthanized because their families simply couldn’t afford one knee surgery, let alone two.

So yes, ACL can be a complication of being overweight, which can lead to death.

Obesity complicates injuries. By: Jeremy Vandel

The Fat Gap

A survey shows that only 17% of people consider their pets overweight, while 47% of veterinarians see these patients as overweight or obese.

This phenomenon has been poetically called the “fat gap.”

The fat gap occurs when we incorrectly evaluate an overweight pet as normal. This discrepancy makes discussing the problem difficult at best. Denial leads many people to be shocked when their vet tells them that their picture-perfect pet is actually overweight.

By: yukariryu

Weight Gain After Spay and Neuter

Veterinarians think factors causing obesity are too much food, too many treats, not enough exercise and genetic circumstances.

Quite often, though, weight gain starts after the pet is spayed or neutered. Keeping pets on the same food as they were on before the procedure is not ideal. Hormone levels change, with metabolism slowing down by about 30% afterward.

So logically, pets should receive about 30% fewer calories to fulfill their needs. Many vets now recommend switching spayed and neutered pets older than 1 year old to a light adult food.

As you can see, being overweight affects quality of life in many ways. In addition, it can affect quantity of life, or lifespan.

A classic study showed that thin dogs outlive chubby dogs by an average of 2 years. Looking at overweight and obesity as a cosmetic problem is a serious misconception. There are serious life-threatening consequences.

What About My Pet?

How can you tell if your pet is overweight? Vets use a tool called the body condition score. The BCS is a simple, fairly objective way to tell how close to an ideal body type your cat or dog is.

To learn more, view this video from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

If you are concerned that your pet may be overweight, talk with your vet. Until you do, let us share the biggest secret to pet happiness:

“Feed your pets less, exercise them more, and take them to your veterinarian at least once a year.”


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ. Chris Longenecker, a certified veterinary technician, contributed. It was last reviewed Oct. 1, 2015.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at


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