Weight Loss in Pets

Obesity in pets is dramatically on the rise and is lowering our pets’ quality of life and leading to a range of illnesses which shorten life expectancy. Our aim is to keep your pets as healthy as they can be, keeping them fit and slim is a huge part of this. We are passionate about increasing awareness of obesity in pets and helping you help your pet lose weight.

Why is it important to keep your pet at a healthy weight?

65% of dogs* and 39% of cats** in the UK are overweight or obese and the life expectancy of overweight dogs is nearly 3 years shorter than those at a healthy weight+.

Obesity puts our pets at an increased risk of developing diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, pancreatitis, skin disorders and diabetes. It can also make it more difficult for them to exercise and maintain an active life, both of which are vital to their quality of life.

Is my pet overweight?

Just 37% of pet owners know how to correctly check their pet’s weight, this means that there may be huge numbers of overweight pets in the UK whose owner’s are unaware of the problem…and if you are unaware of the problem then you can’t do anything about it!

Here at The Harrogate Vet we are all trained to assess the body condition of your pets and to teach you how to do it too!

Due to the huge variety of breeds, shapes and sizes of dogs, cats and rabbits it is not possible to use weight alone to assess whether they are an ideal weight – instead we use a system called Body Condition Scoring to assess the shape and feel of the pet. For example:

  • Do they have a visible waistline?
  • Does their abdomen tuck up towards their hind legs?
  • How easily can you feel their ribs?

If you would like us to assess your pet’s Body Condition Score and to weigh them just give us a call or pop in and we would be more than happy to do it, and to teach you how to do it.

How do I get my pet to lose weight?

Just like in people, a combination of a reduction in calories and an increase in exercise are key to getting pets to lose weight.

Calorie reduction can be achieved by reducing the amount of food and treats your pet is getting, or by switching your pet onto a food that contains fewer calories. Switching onto a lower calorie food, designed to promote weight loss, has the benefit that the pet will be able to eat a larger portion of this food than a standard food for the same number of calories, therefore making them feel more full, and helping you feel less mean about giving them a small portion! Any changes in your pet’s diet should be done gradually by mixing in a small amount of the new food in with their current diet and they gradually increasing the proportion of new food and reducing the old food – this should be done over 1-2 weeks.

Measuring your pets’ food and giving the same amount each day can really help to maintain your pets’ weight, particularly if different people feed them on different days. Using slow-feeding bowls or feed balls can help to slow down your pet’s eating and make meal times more interesting!

Lots of pet treats have high fat and calorie contents and can make up a huge portion of the pets’ total daily intake if given frequently. One way to reduce calorie intake while still feeling like you are treating your pet is to measure their total daily allowance of their normal food and then to remove a small handful each day to be used as treats. This means you are not adding to their calorie intake, but they are still getting a few little treats throughout the day.

Alternative, healthier, treat options include vegetables such as broccoli and peas, carrots can also be used but are higher in sugar so should be given in moderation! Human food such as cheese and ham should be avoided.

For cats that go outside, it can be difficult to know if they are getting food from elsewhere – either from hunting, scavenging or from a friendly neighbour! Using a collar with a bell on it can limit their hunting success, and using a collar that says ‘PLEASE DON’T FEED ME’ should stop anybody else feeding your cat!


Exercise is a hugely important part of weight loss, however this should be increased gradually. Just like us, pets’ fitness takes time to adjust. If your dog is used to a 10 minute walk around the park they will not cope well if you try and take them for a long run straightaway! Unfortunately lots diseases exacerbated by obesity (such as arthrtitis and heart disease) make it difficult for pets to exercise so changes must always be made gradually.

For dogs that are suffering with joint disease, alternative forms of exercise, such as hydrotherapy, can be really effective.

Increasing a cat’s exercise levels can be harder than a dog’s but using toys to encourage play can be a great way for them to burn calories.

Don’t give up!

Progress can be slow and it may feel like you are not making any difference – but stick to it! It can take a number of weeks to start seeing results and we are aiming for a healthy, gradual pace of weight loss. Feel free to pop into the practice and use our scales to weigh your pet as often as you like.

If you would like to come and discuss weight loss for your pet, or to enrol them on our free Weight Clinics just give us a call or pop into the practice!


*German, A.J., et al. (2018) Dangerous trends in pet obesity. Veterinary record. Vol182 Issue 1
** Courcier E., et al. (2010) Prevalence and risk factors for feline obesity in a first opinion practice in Glasgow, Scotland, J Fel M & S, 2010 Oct;12(10);746-753
†Kealy et al. (2002) Effects of diet restriction on lifespan and age-related changes in dogs
^PMFA Whitepaper (2014) Pet Obesity: 5 years on

Date Published:
16th January 2020

Written by:
Katherine Jacklin