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Fat cats... and dogs

03 August 2022

...and even goldfish! Too many of our pets are obese, says our vet Bruce Fogle.

Overweight cat on sofa

In May, the British Equine Veterinary Association said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ to see fat horses not just competing but being highly placed at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Well, that’s no surprise to vets. It is estimated that 50% of horses are overweight. I read similar statistics for dogs and only slightly less for cats. From what I see, people now think ‘fat’ is normal.

What a companion animal weighs – horse, dog, cat or goldfish – depends on many things, most of which are directly under our control. Genetics is certainly a less controllable factor, and we know, for example, that certain types of horses – such as draught, cob, native and Welsh breeds – are more at risk of obesity.

Among dogs, Labradors, golden retrievers and flat-faced varieties, such as bulldogs and pugs, are genetically predisposed to obesity. But we can control almost all the other reasons why I see animals so fat that they are unhealthy. We know that the way to maintain stable body size is to balance the number of calories going in with the number of calories used up as energy. We love our pets, and tend to show that love by feeding them ever more tasty foods and treats. And snacks. And table scraps.

We know that a typical dog thrives on exercise, and that’s the way to efficiently burn calories. But as we get busier and busier, our dogs get less and less daily exercise. From what I’ve read, the average UK dog, in good weather, gets less than an hour of activity daily. More calories and less exercise have an obvious result. My veterinary clinic is in the heart of London, so most cats (and rabbits) I see stay indoors. Cats can release pent-up energy with a quick ‘wall of death’ race around rooms, and rabbits can hoppity down corridors, but they have little chance to burn off calories unless we help by encouraging physical play.

As a vet, I am also an unexpected factor in why pets are overweight. Most companion animals are neutered for either health or social reasons, but neutering decreases an animal’s metabolic rate, so this is another risk factor for obesity.

The bottom line is that it’s us who are responsible for the obesity epidemic in companion animals (and in us, too). And in dogs and cats this can lead to diabetes and arthritis.

For our native horses, here’s a suggestion. Our ponies and horses evolved to withstand British weather conditions, so don’t over-rug them. Rugs limit energy loss. Winter weight loss is normal. Learn what a healthy weight looks like and aim for that.

But, for dogs and cats, it all boils down to not overindulging them with food, and making sure they exercise.

How to keep your pet's weight healthy

1 If you can’t easily feel your dog’s ribs, it’s probably overweight.

2 To monitor your cat, weigh yourself on your bathroom scales while holding it, then subtract your weight and make a note of the result. Do this every few months.

3 Goldfish get fat too! Feed only what they can eat in two minutes.

4 Whatever the species, when your dog, cat or rabbit is neutered, anticipate weight gain and reduce food by 10%.

Find out more

For Saga Pet Insurance provided by Acromas Insurance Co Ltd (AICL) for over-50s, call 0800 092 6328 quoting SM22PT, or visit


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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