Companion Care
Text size:
Rabbit obesity.jpg


A big problem for pets!

Need pet advice?

Search our expert advice articles


Why is obesity a problem?

According to PDSA Annual Wellbeing (PAW) report, 81% of vets and nurses have seen an increase in pet obesity over the past 2 years. Obesity is currently one of the most serious welfare problems affecting pets, with an estimated one in three dogs, one in four cats and one in four rabbits considered to be overweight or obese.


Overweight and obese pets are more susceptible to a range of associated medical conditions, including osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. The risk of diabetes in overweight cats is, for example, three times greater than in healthy-weight cats. Being overweight impacts animal's general quality of life. Due to the extra weight, they are continually carrying around, overweight animals are less energetic, less willing to play and generally get less enjoyment out of life.


Is my pet a healthy weight?

Weight gain can be very gradual. Also, since there are now so many overweight pets, being obese or overweight is starting to be seen as normal. Sometimes, owners of healthy-weight dogs say the are asked whether their pet is alright because they seem thin in comparison to other dogs in the area.


To assess whether their pet is a healthy shape, owners can use the same method as vets and vet nurses do. This method is called 'body condition scoring', and involves using your eyes and hands to look at and feel areas where fat can be scored. Dogs and cats, for example, should have a clearly defined waist that tucks in behind their ribs when looked at from above. From the side, their waist should follow a clear line upwards behind their ribs, and should not be level or be sagging. Owners should be able to easily feel the ribs of dogs, cats and rabbits by running their hands gently over them.

To help owners body condition score their pets, PDSA provides helpful leaflets and posters with pictures which can be downloaded for free via


Why do pets become overweight?



Advances in nutritional quality of pet foods have led to many pets being feed complete, commercial diets. This has generally been good for pets' health, but 'complete' means the food contains all of the nutrients that a pet needs, in the correct quantities, and two feeding practices can cause problems with this:

1. overfeeding
2. giving treats and snacks

The PAW report found that many owners rely on past experience or 'common sense', rather than following the manufacturer's feeding guidelines or asking a vet or vet nurse for their recommendations on how much to feed their pet.

The PAW report found that 5.5 million pets get treats as part of their daily diet, including chips, cake, cheese, chips and takeaways. In rabbits, a key cause of obesity is feeding rabbit 'muesli' (a mix of seeds and flakes) or overfeeding rabbit nuggets. Rabbit muesli should not be fed at all, as it is linked to dental and digestive disorders, as well as to obesity.

Further rabbit feeding information, written by PDSA vets, can be downloaded for free at


Exercise and energy expenditure

Dogs need to be walked daily, with time spent safely off the lead, running and playing. Their exercise requirements are determined by their age, breed and health, so speak to your vet or vet nurse for advice specific to your dog.

Cats typically meet their exercise requirements by roaming around their local neighbourhood, but a growing number of cats are now being housed permanently indoors. This can have a negative effect on their wellbeing, but where indoor living has been recommended (e.g. if they have been diagnosed with FIV, a virus that could transmit to other cats), their food portions should be reduced accordingly and they should be given daily opportunities to play and climb.

Exercise opportunities for smaller pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats, come from the kind of living environment with which they are provided. These pets should be housed in living areas that are as large as possible to give them enough space to move around and exercise. Rabbits and Guinea pigs should have a sizeable, permanently attached run on grass to provide lots of opportunities for activities such as climbing, digging and exploring. This can be achieved by providing tunnels, platforms, exercise wheels and digging trays.


Can my pet lose weight?

It is important to ensure that weight is lost safely and there isn't an underlying medical cause for the weight gain. To be safe, get your pet checked by your vet.

Certain medical conditions, including hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) can cause obesity, but this is rare, typically affecting less than one percent of obesity cases.

Your veterinary practice team will look at your pet's existing feeding and exercise habits, advise you on the best approach to treats, and possibly prescribe a specially formulated weight-loss food that is designed to provide the right balance of nutrition, without making you feel as though you are 'starving' your pet.

Read the Vet Report for more Information. 

Click to read some of our articles.