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22 Jan 2020

Is your dog or cat overweight?

We're a nation of pet lovers, but does our desire to humanise and treat our animals mean we're actually killing them with kindness?
cat and dog lineup

January is a popular time for new exercise plans and healthy diets. But should your cat or dog be on one, too?

Pet obesity is the top welfare concern for vets. According to The Kennel Club, between 30% and 60% of dogs are now overweight.

Daniella Dos Santos from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) told us: 'Obesity is a serious health and welfare issue for pets and we know more and more veterinary practices are seeing overweight animals coming through their doors with weight-related problems like musculoskeletal conditions, breathing issues and diabetes.

'It's vital that owners understand how to recognise a healthy body shape, which can be a more useful way of telling if your pet is overweight rather than relying on weight alone.'

Best cat food brands

Best dog food brands

Is my dog overweight?

The Kennel Club suggests looking out for the following in your dog:

  1. A bigger and rounder face
  2. A reluctance to go for walks
  3. Difficulty walking
  4. Easily getting out of breath
  5. A thick, fatty neck
  6. Ribs cannot be easily felt if you run your hands along their side
  7. Lack of obvious waist

Very thin

  • Ribs, spine and hip bones easily seen (in short haired pets)
  • Obvious loss of muscle bulk
  • No fat can be felt under the skin


  • Ribs, spine and hip bones easily seen
  • Obvious waist and abdominal tuck
  • Very little fat can be felt under the skin


  • Ribs, spine and hip bones easily felt
  • Visible waist and abdominal tuck
  • A small amount of fat can be felt


  • Ribs, spine and hip bones are hard to feel
  • Waist barely visible with broad back
  • Layer of fat on belly and at base of tail


  • Ribs, spine and hip bones extremely difficult to feel under a thick layer of fat
  • No waist can be seen and belly may droop significantly
  • Heavy fat pads on lower back and at base of the tail

Is my cat overweight?

Cats.org.uk suggests looking out for the following in your cat:

  1. Fatty deposits on limbs and face
  2. Thicker fat pads over ribs and spine
  3. Hard to feel your cat's ribs due to fat covering them
  4. Belly is rounded and may even have a 'pad' of fat that sags down
  5. No obvious waist
  6. Backbone may be covered with large fatty deposits and cannot be felt or seen.

Very thin

  • Very little muscle
  • Standing out ribs, backbone and hipbones
  • No body fat


  • A little fat over hipbones
  • Can see ribs and backbone
  • Marked obvious tucked-in waist


  • Smooth, tucked-in waist
  • Can feel ribs, backbone and hips but not prominent
  • Abdominal fat pad just visible


  • No waist
  • Ribs, backbone and hipbones difficult to feel
  • Enlarged abdominal fat pad


  • Round body
  • Cannot feel ribs, backbone or hipbones
  • Fat pad hanging under cat

If you think your four-legged friend might be overweight, book in a visit with your local vet for advice and an action plan.

How much should I feed my pet?

Ensure you're feeding your pet the correct amount by measuring out each meal on a set of weighing scales. A few extra bits of kibble or jelly might not seem like a lot, but it can massively contribute to weight gain.

Most commercial dog and cat food comes with feeding guidelines on the packaging based on your dog's weight and activity levels. If you're ever unsure, ask your vet. Your vet will be able to advise you on how often you should be feeding your dog, depending on its individual needs.

How do I know if my pet food is healthy?

According to Andrew Miller, a pet nutritionist at Premier Nutrition, 'as long as a commercial food (whether it is dry, wet, frozen, raw, boutique, grain-free, etc) is nutritionally complete, then it is designed to provide everything a pet needs to remain healthy.

Some pets have specific nutritional needs based on clinically identified issues and they should be fed diets appropriate to their needs under veterinary supervision.'

Nicola Paley from the Pet Food Manufacturing Association (PFMA) adds 'all “complete” pet foods must by law contain all the nutrients in the right proportions that a pet needs for healthy bodily function.'

Whether you choose grain-free, raw, hypoallergenic or just a simple kibble, commercial grade food that meets PFMA guidelines is nutritionally sound. You can check on the PFMA website to find out whether your pet food brand's manufacturer is a member.

If you're considering buying new dog or cat food, head to our guide on choosing a pet food for the latest advice.

Plus, discover which pet food is the cheapest out of the five most popular cat food brands (including Whiskas and Iams), and dog food brands (including Royal Canin and Bakers) we've rated.

In August 2019 we surveyed 4,684 Which? members who'd bought pet food recently and asked about their experiences with their chosen brand.