| Humanimal-diabesity |

Excess Body Fat, Overweight and Obesity

By Joy Pape, FNP-C and Nicole Cerniello, DVM

I specialize in weight management and diabetes. For most people (and pets), excess weight and weight related complications, such as diabetes, can be managed. People and pets can live long, productive lives and we can take steps to prevent or manage many of the complications. Dr. Nicole Cerniello and I hope to clear up some of the confusion about weight and offer hope for you and your pets.

The subject of excess body fat, obesity, diabetes (also called diabesity) and other weight related complications is complex. So, let’s give up the blame, judgement and guilt about people and pets (and their owners) who have complications related to weight.
Health Care Professionals (HCPs) are learning it’s really not all about weight but about having too much body fat (the medical term is adipose tissue) that may impair health. Research shows there are over 200 complications of excess body fat.


As we get information of the dangers of excess body fat, we are also getting bombarded by conflicting messages. Many foods, especially highly processed foods and treats can exacerbate the problem. Being less active (such as spending too much time on the internet or just laying around) contributes to the problem.

Then, we hear of the commercial weight loss plans, medications or surgery to help the problems we may have created for ourselves and our pets.

Eating too much and not moving enough may not be the only causes. The terms overweight or obesity have several definitions. One is the body having too much adipose tissue and another is the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a person’s weight in pounds or kilograms divided by a square of height in feet or meters.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and most scientific/medical organizations interpret the BMI in this way for adults 20 years of age and older. They use standard weight status categories which are the same for men and women of all body types and ages

BMI is falling out of favor because it doesn’t measure body fatness, but it is a screening tool that is an easy first step.

  • Women tend to have more body fat than men.
  • The amount of body fat may be vary depending on the racial/ethnic group.
  • Older people tend to have more body fat than younger adults.
  • Athletes have less body fat than non-athletes.

Here are some tips on how take off and keep off some excess weight. It doesn’t take a lot of weight loss to make health improvements. Losing three to five percent can improve your health.

Know your numbers. Learn your weight and risk by using these measurements.
Weight. Step on the scale. As I tell my patients, “The scale is not a judgement of you, it’s just a number that gives you information.”

Height. Measure your height.

BMI. Although falling out of favor as the only parameter, it is still a good screening tool. Use the BMI calculator tool to learn yours.

Waist circumference (WC). Excess abdominal fat increases your risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Not all people who have excess abdominal fat have a high BMI. The two together increase your risks if you are a man with a WC of more than 40 inches or a woman with a WC of more than 35 inches.

With these four numbers, you and your health care provider can decide if you need to lose weight, and if so, how to lose it and how to prevent weight regain.

The topic of losing weight and keeping it off deserves an article of its own, but for now, know that one size does not fit all. We are all different, with different backgrounds, health conditions, likes and dislikes. The overall recommendation is the best way to lose weight and keep it off is the way that works for you!


BRANDY IN A NURSING UNIFORM. Author Joy Pape’s inspiration. Photo courtesy of Joy Pape.

I once had a poodle I dearly loved and we fed her too much. Brandy developed obesity, heart disease and diabetes. I think she was one of the reasons I went into this field. What I do know now is that her health conditions may have been related to her genetics—as well as over eating.

There are many complications of obesity in pets including respiratory disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes and decreased life span. Like humans, obesity in pets is very complex and challenging. Unlike humans, we do not use BMI in cats and dogs. Instead, we use a Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS is a 9-point scale system with 1 being far too thin and 9 being far too overweight. The ideal BCS is 4-5. A dog with a score of 5 will have ribs and vertebrae that you can feeling while petting him but still has some fat coverage over them. When looking at your dog from above, you can see a waist or tucked abdomen. This is also true for cats along with a minimal abdominal fat pad.

Approximately 30 percent of all pets in the United States are overweight. While there are many factors at play (breed, poorly controlled endocrine problems, activity level, etc.) one of the main factors is diet. The good news is, we have (almost) complete control over what our pets eat. An ideal diet for both cats and dogs is a complete and balanced pet food product. Generally, this is any food containing grains (i.e. not advertised as “grain free”) and has an Association of American Feed Control Officials statement on the label.

The trickier question is “how much should we feed our pets?” The average 10-pound housecat only needs about 250 calories per day but this can vary from cat to cat. With dogs, it is more difficult to give an average calorie need given the wide range in sizes. While the label on the bag of pet food will give you an approximation of how much to feed your pet, the best way is to do a math equation (weight in kilograms x 30 +70) x 0.7 = kilocalories/day.) If this seems too complicated, your veterinarian can help you calculate this. Another important note is to remember that a dry cup refers to a standard measuring cup.

Learn More From the CDC

Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity

Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity (BMI)

Joy Pape, FNP-C, CDCES, CFCN is a board-certified family nurse practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator and Specialist and Specialist in Weight Management & Obesity at Weill Cornell’s Comprehensive Weight Control Center and has a private practice in the West Village. Dr. Nicole Cerniello, DVM is Medical Director for the Greenwich Village Animal Hospital.