Big Bertha came to FHS as a stray on August 30th. She was 101lbs. She could barely walk. Every breath was a struggle. We ran bloodwork to make sure that there wasn’t a medical reason for her weight. She was found to be healthy, just heavy. So she’s been on a weight loss plan while at the shelter and to date she has lost 21 pounds. Yay! She gets several short walks per day by 5 or 6 different staff and volunteers. And she’s on a special, weight loss diet.

Big Bertha isn’t alone in her weight struggles. Vets estimate that as many as 59% of all pets are obese. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 169% increase in the number of overweight cats and a 158% increase in the number of overweight dogs. Excess weight is a serious health problem for dogs and cats and is common in the United States. Just like in humans, the two main contributors to obesity are too little exercise and too much food intake. Other contributing factors can be hormonal influences, certain genetic factors and other disease processes.

So if you’re concerned that you have a fat cat or a chubby puppy, step one would be a trip to your veterinarian to rule out and medical causes, such as hypothyroidism. If your pet is carrying extra weight it can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It can increase the risk of arthritis. Extra weight can cause joint pain and make it uncomfortable for exercise, creating a vicious cycle. Obesity can cause breathing problems, skin and coat problems. It can be the cause of kidney disease and certain cancers. Especially in cats, obesity can leave them prone to diabetes. All of these problems can make your pet uncomfortable and limit the way they interact with you and other family members. Reducing caloric intake and increasing exercise can help your pet successfully lose weight.

Lifestyle changes and a weight loss program are essential. Your veterinarian can help determine if your pet is too heavy and provide guidelines for achieving their ideal weight. There are scientifically formulated nutritional products to help with healthy and safe weight
reduction in dogs. It is not a good idea to simply reduce the volume of their current food. This will cause malnourishment over time.
According to the Purina Lifespan Study, obesity takes almost two years off a dog’s life. To check if your pet is obese or overweight, you should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs without pressing on the pet and your pet’s stomach should be tucked in.

It’s not just dogs and cats either. Obesity is the number one health problem in pet birds. Most pet birds have food available all the time, so they don’t have to work for their dinner. And who knew?….there’s even an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and just last week, October 12th was National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

Well, that’s enough time spent reading. Go take your dog for a walk. And if you don’t have a dog to walk, come walk with Big Bertha. She would really like to get the word “Big” taken off of her name.

Amy Wade-Carotenuto is the Executive Director at Flagler Humane Society and can be reached at Flagler Humane Society is a 501(c)(3) not-for- profit organization founded in 1980. For more information go to