A chihuahua in a black witches costume in front of a white wall with a bat and pumpkin cutout.

The Scary Truth About Pet Obesity

Fall is a wonderful season: the trees have shifted into a sea of orange, yellow and red, Thanksgiving meals have been enjoyed with family, and tasty Halloween treats are in sight. 

However, Spooky Season has earned its title in more regards than just Halloween. Did you know that October is also National Pet Obesity Awareness Month? While some extra weight on your pet may seem harmless, and maybe even endearing, pet obesity is a wolf dressed in a sheep costume!  

Obesity in pets is associated with many adverse health outcomes in both dogs and cats, such as reduced lifespan, diabetes mellitus and osteoarthritis. As such, it is important to accurately recognize weight gain in your pet and take preventative measures to reduce the risk of obesity onset.  

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

Pet owners commonly misperceive their pet’s body condition. In a 2019 report released by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA), it was found that, although up to 59% of dogs and 63% of cats have been reported as overweight or obese, 68% of pet owners believe their pet is a healthy weight. Additionally, although 90% of the vets surveyed blamed overfeeding for the rise in obesity, only 49% of pet owners agreed.  

Further research has found that even dog owners who are aware of the existence of body condition scoring charts and use these tools are not able to accurately determine that their dog is overweight. To learn more about how to body condition score your pet, check out our blog post, “Scoring for Health”.  

The Trick with Treats

Treats and human food are not complete and balanced additions to your pet’s diet. Unlike treats, your pet’s food is formulated to provide them with all the essential nutrients in optimal amounts and ratios. As such, this diet should make up at least 90% of your pet’s daily caloric intake, and treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake.  

Feeding more than the recommended “treat budget” may come back to haunt your pet. Overfeeding treats may put your pet at risk for malnutrition, and, if your pet is on a therapeutic diet or has specific medical conditions, adversely impact their treatment.  Also keep in mind that some human foods that are often fed as treats or snacks for our pets can be toxic. This includes, but is not limited to, chocolate, raisins and grapes, and any food products that contain xylitol.

You should always check with your veterinary healthcare team to learn what your pet’s specific “treat budget” is before feeding treats. To learn more about safely treating your pet, check out our blog post, “Tricky Treats”.  

What Measuring Tool is the Pick of the Patch?

An excellent way to limit overfeeding and help prevent obesity onset in your pet is to accurately measure their food allotments. The best way to do so is to transition from the use of a measuring cup to a kitchen gram scale to measure your pet’s food.  

As discussed in our blog post, “National Pet Obesity Awareness Day: #banthecup”, two publications have demonstrated the inaccuracy of scoops and/or cups, thereby, supporting a change in measuring utensils to the gram scale. In one study, the authors found that using measuring cups to measure various portions of dry dog and cat food can lead to an overestimation of over 80%. In the second study, using a one-cup dry-food measuring cup, a two-cup graduated liquid measuring cup and a two-cup commercial food scoop to measure dry dog food can all lead to an overestimation of 152.17%.  

Importantly, overestimating food portions may cause pets to be consistently overfed, receive excess calories, and increase the risk of weight gain and obesity. This is why it is important to #banthecup!  

If you are concerned about your pets’ weight then your family veterinarian can help. Your pet’s veterinary healthcare team is available to help you navigate different preventative and treatment plans for safe (and effective) weight management!  

Written by: Giselle Carter, BScH, DVM Student  

Reviewed by:  

Hannah Godfrey, BSc.H., MSc., PhD Candidate 

Adronie Verbrugghe,  DVM, PhD, Dip ECVCN


Eastland-Jones RC, German AJ, Holden SL, Biourge V, Pickavance LC. Owner misperception of canine body condition persists despite use of a body condition score chart. Journal of Nutritional Science. 2014 Jan;3:e45. 

Laflamme DP. Understanding and managing obesity in dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2006 Nov;36(6):1283–95. 

Larsen JA, Villaverde C. Scope of the problem and perception by owners and veterinarians. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2016 Sep;46(5):761–72. 

Pet Food Manufacturers Association. Pet obesity ten years on 2009-2019. [Internet]. London (UK): UK Pet Food; 2019 [cited 2023, July 19]. Available from: file:///Users/gisellecarter/Downloads/Pet-Obesity-Report-2019.pdf  

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