Insurance for overweight pets

Find out more about overweight and obese pets, including how to avoid your pet piling on the pounds and keep them at a healthy weight.

Key points

  • Obesity in pets is primarily caused by overfeeding and lack of exercise
  • Excess weight can cause a multitude of health problems including diabetes and joint issues
  • Pet insurance will still cover obese animals, however pre-existing medical issues caused by being overweight might not be included

An overweight pet is one that has enough excess body fat to reduce its health and quality of life. This is usually around 20-25% above the animal's ideal weight.

Much like the obesity epidemic in the human population, the number of overweight pets has increased in recent years and is fast becoming a serious problem.

Even if you have pet insurance to protect your pet if they get ill or injured, you should still do everything you can to keep them healthy in the first place - and that includes watching their weight.

According to research by The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in March 2015, 80% of vets and vet nurses believe there'll be more overweight pets than healthy weight pets by 2020. A worrying state of affairs given the strain even a little bit of extra weight can put on an animal's body.

pet-insurance-overweight

However, it's a preventable problem and the effects that it has on your pet's body could be reversible if the appropriate action is taken.

Causes of pet obesity

Although it may seem obvious, pet obesity is usually caused by a combination of large portions, giving your animal the wrong type of food and a lack of exercise.

However, it could also be a symptom of certain illnesses, so it's important to check with your vet that nothing more sinister is at play if your pet starts piling on the pounds.

Overfeeding

Overfeeding is due to a lack of portion control. Ideally you should measure out your pet's food to the amount that's specified on the packet.

The quantity of food your pet needs will be based on the type of animal you have, how big they are and their age.

Note that baby, adult and senior animals may need different types of food, as well as amounts.

If you're not sure how much food you should be giving them, talk to your vet who'll be able to advise you on portion sizes.

Human food

If you're partial to giving food that's meant for humans to your pet, this could be a major factor in their weight problem. Dog with its head in a food bowl

Not only is certain human food toxic for animals and hard to digest - for example chocolate - but it also tends to be higher in calories which contributes to pet obesity, so avoid giving your pet leftovers from your plate.

As well as being the wrong type of diet, human food is often given on top of the animal's regular meals, increasing their intake of calories to a worrying level.

According to research by the PDSA in 2015, over 2.6 million dogs received scraps or leftovers as their main meal, which could leave them lacking the right nutrients that come from balanced dog-specific food.

Treating

Our pets are part of the family, so we like to treat them and make them happy. However, creating a strong relationship between your animal and food can be a slippery slope.

If you constantly give them treats as rewards, it can create an unhealthy obsession with food, which is a difficult cycle to break.

"Pet obesity is entirely preventable and we're trying to help owners understand that while their pets may beg for food, and giving a treat is seen as a way of showing it ultimately it could be killing them with kindness," said Nicola Martin, PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare.

It's recommended that you mix up the way you treat your pet for good behaviour, this could be by giving them their favourite toy, petting them or taking them out for a walk (obviously this option mostly applies to dogs!).

Lack of exercise

The minimum amount of physical activity your animal requires per day will be dependent on the type of animal you own. For example, a golden retriever will need more exercise than a hamster.

It may sound like common sense but many pets aren't getting their recommended requirement of exercise and apart from helping to keep your pet healthy, it can also benefit their mental health.

If you're not sure whether your pet is getting enough exercise, your vet can advise you on how much physical activity they should be getting daily.

Obesity risks to health

As well as the common side effects of obesity, it also poses other significant risks to your pet's health:

  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Joint problems

Not only will this cause unnecessary stress to your pet and potentially shorten their lifespan, but it could also make your pet insurance premiums rise.

If your pet is diagnosed with any of the problems above, your insurer is likely to bump up the cost of your premiums year on year to cover the cost of the potential increased medical care.

Also note that pre-existing conditions aren't covered by the majority of insurers, so this makes it difficult to switch policies as your pet wouldn't be covered if there were any recurring issues stemming from the initial diagnosis.

This would leave you in a difficult position if your pet needs expensive medical care that you can't afford which relates to a pre-existing condition.

Generally a pet being overweight wouldn't prevent insurers from covering them.

However, because of the known health risks that come with an animal being on the portly side, you could see a higher than normal premium or exclusions if they develop conditions that need repeat treatment.

What to do if your pet is overweight?

If you suspect that your pet may be overweight, you can take them to your local vet who'll be able to confirm whether they need to shift a few pounds to become healthy again. 

If they do need to shave a few inches off their waistline, your vet can provide you with an eating and exercise programme to get them fighting fit.

Monthly weight checks at home can help to keep your pet's weight on the right path and give you peace of mind that they're healthy. 

By Abbie Laughton-Coles