Cat Obesity and Dog Obesity: What Causes the Problem? And What Can Be Done to Solve It?

Dog and cat obesity impact pets around the globe. We've gotten so used to the notion that dogs and cats can get fat -- particularly as they get older -- that we're no longer shocked to encounter enormous felines and plump pooches. Nor are we surprised to learn that these animals suffer diseases like diabetes, insulin resistance, and so on.

But these observations should shock us.

They should shock us because obesity and other metabolic problems are generally not found in wild animal populations. Do you see a lot of fat, diabetic wolves roaming around? What about morbidly rotund lions, cheetahs, and panthers?

No, you don't. Wild dog diabetes and wild cat obesity don't generally exist.

Before we discuss the implications of this observation, let's ask an even more basic question: Is the dog and cat obesity epidemic for real? It appears so.

1. Note this article from NPR: "US obesity epidemic hits pets, too" from March 20, 2006.

"Brian Unger is worried about the epidemic of obesity in the United States. In today's Unger Report, he notes that that it's not just Americans who are getting fatter -- it's also their four legged furry companions."[1]

You can read more about the skyrocketing rates of dog and cat obesity here.

So it is occurring. But what's driving it?

2. Here is an interesting article on cat obesity, in which the author quotes a woman named Elizabeth M. Hodgkins:

"Cats are "obligate carnivores" which means they are physically conditioned to eat meat as their primary source of nourishment... the diet of a cat in the wild is comprised of prey like small rodents and birds. The nutritional make up of a typical mouse or other small animal is: 55% protein, 35% fat and less than 2% carbohydrate. Cats have always been and still are capable of thriving on only that combination of nutrients and only from animal sources. Notice the low, low carbohydrate percent!"[2]

3. Here's another article that speaks to the same idea:

"do... wild cats eat a dry food diet that is full of starchy carbohydrates in the form of grains? Do they eat a water depleted diet in the form of a dry kibble? Is their diet one that derives much of its protein from plants (versus meat) as is true of many dry food diets? The answers are, again, simple: no, no and no."[3]

So maybe carbohydrates in the diet are responsible for dog and cat obesity, and perhaps they're also responsible for diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and a whole host of other medical problems in our pets.

But if we're discussing obesity in humans, so what? As we all "know," humans are omnivores -- capable of eating both plant and animal matter -- so what's the relevance of talking about dogs and cats when we're trying to figure out what's making humans fat?

The relevance is that overwhelming anthropological data tell us that human beings evolved to be hunter-gatherers -- essentially meat eating apes. The evidence appears to suggest that we're carnivores, too, essentially. After all, it's only been ten thousand years since the advent of agriculture. It's only been a few hundred years since we started eating refined sugars and carbohydrates in significant quantities. And it's only been 30 years or so since we've collectively dedicated ourselves to eating low fat high carb diets.

We replaced fats in our diets with carbohydrates, and subsequentially we've seen an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other diseases of civilization bloom and make us sick and kill us.

The dog and cat obesity epidemics are a big headache for the Caloric Balance Hypothesis. How can you blame dog and cat obesity on a lack of willpower and failure to get to the gym? It doesn't make any sense. Cats and dogs don't consciously regulate their food intake. They don't "count calories."

But if you can't blame pet obesity on "excess caloric balance" or on a failure of willpower, or on overeating, then how can you blame human obesity on these factors?

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Return to page on the debate over the cause of the obesity epidemic


1. Unger, Brian. U.S. Obesity Epidemic Hits Pets, Too NPR (Mar 26 2006).

2. (Note: cannot locate original quote, but for more about Elizabeth Hodgkins' ideas, click here.)

3. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, Feline Obesity: An Epidemic of Fat Cats,

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