Senior Pets, Obesity, and Kidney Health

Senior Pets, Obesity, and Kidney Health

As our pets get older, they are more likely to gain weight. As loving pet parents, it can be overwhelming to see our pets act differently or witness them suffer from the side effects of obesity, like kidney illness. 

To help our pets, it is important to think about what the cause of our pet’s obesity is, and understand how it can affect their overall health. This way, we can take the right steps to help them lose some of their extra weight while taking care of their kidneys! 

Why do some older pets gain excess weight?

Overall lower activity levels

As pets age, they tend to become less active due to decreased energy levels, arthritis, or other mobility issues. This reduction in physical activity leads to fewer calories burned, contributing to weight gain.

Slower metabolism

Aging can slow down a pets metabolism, meaning they burn fewer calories at rest. If their calorie intake isn’t adjusted to match this lower metabolic rate, weight gain can occur. 

Hormonal changes

Aging can affect a pets hormonal balance, including changes in thyroid function or the development of diabetes, which can influence weight gain.

Medications and dietary habits

Some medications that senior pets may need for various health issues can contribute to weight gain as a side effect. Additionally, they might be given treats or human food that are high in calories.

How is kidney illness linked to obesity? 

The link between kidney disease and obesity in pets is complicated because they are often comorbid illnesses. Obesity can contribute to the development and progression of kidney disease, while kidney disease can also complicate the management of obesity. 

On the other hand, understanding and addressing them at the same time can help manage and treat them both and improve your pet’s overall prognosis and quality of life. Here are some ways that obesity affects our pet's kidneys:

  • Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: Obesity can cause chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage the kidneys over time, leading to or exacerbating kidney disease.
  • Hypertension: Obese pets are more prone to hypertension (high blood pressure), which can damage the delicate blood vessels in the kidneys and impair their function.
  • Glomerular HyperfiltrationIn obese pets, the kidneys may initially compensate for increased metabolic demands by filtering blood at a higher rate, known as glomerular hyperfiltration. Over time, this can lead to kidney damage and decreased renal function.
  • Insulin Resistance and Diabetes: Obesity is a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus in pets. Diabetes can lead to diabetic nephropathy, a form of kidney disease resulting from high blood sugar levels and associated complications.
  • ProteinuriaObesity can cause or worsen proteinuria (excess protein in the urine), which is a common marker of kidney disease and can further damage kidney tissue.

    How can you manage symptoms of kidney illness through weight management? 

    1. Specialized Diets

    A diet that supports renal function with good quality protein(s) and high moisture content can help manage kidney disease in your pet. These diets are typically lower in phosphorus, but you should consult with a vet or animal nutritionist to find the best diet for your pet.

    If weight loss or weight management is a concern you can start by ensuring your pet is receiving a calorie-controlled portion to support weight loss or management. 

    2. Increased Fiber Content

    Incorporate foods high in fiber to help your pet feel full without adding extra calories. Fiber can also aid in digestion and improve gastrointestinal health.

    3. Controlled Feeding Schedules

    Frequent, small meals help regulate blood sugar levels and keep your cat feeling satisfied.

    Avoiding high-calorie treats and offer kidney-friendly treats in moderation or use a portion of the regular diet as treats.

    4. Encourage Physical Activity

    Interactive play with toys like feather wands, laser pointers, or puzzle feeders for cats, and feeding mats and interactive toys for dogs keep pets sharp and active. Tailor activities to your pet’s physical abilities and avoid overexertion.

    Environmental enrichment like climbing structures, scratching posts and safe outdoor enclosures for cats, and daily walks and interactions with other people and pets for dogs encourage development of natural behaviors and physical activity.

    5. Hydration Management

    Wet food increases water intake, which is beneficial for kidney health and can help with weight management by promoting satiety.

    Ensure fresh, clean water is always available. Consider using water fountains to encourage drinking, especially in warmer weather.

    6. Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

    Routine monitoring check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your cat’s kidney function and overall health help track kidney disease progression and adjust dietary needs accordingly.

    Keep track of your pet’s weight and body condition score (BCS) and weight using vet scales during vet visits to ensure they are losing weight at a healthy rate.

    Check out our IG post to learn about Body Condition Score (BCS)!

    7. Supplements and Medications

    Renal supplements that may support kidney function, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants can help our pets reach their nutritional needs while restricting overall calories.

    Appetite stimulants (with your vet’s approval) can be used to encourage eating while maintaining a kidney-friendly diet.

    8. Behavioral Adjustments

    Positive reinforcement to encourage healthy eating and activity habits. Reward your pet with affection or a small portion of their regular food rather than high-calorie treats.

    Making gradual changes will reduce stress on your cat or dog and increase the likelihood of long-term success.


    Just like us humans, losing weight can be hard on pets, but it is not impossible! If your senior pet is overweight you are not alone. According a survey released in 2022 by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 61% of cats and 59% of dogs are considered obese in North America. 

    By integrating these kidney-friendly methods into your pet’s weight management plan, you can help improve their overall health, support kidney function, and enhance their quality of life. Always consult with your veterinarian before making significant changes to your cat’s diet or exercise routine.

    To ensure a smooth transition to old age, proactively adjusting your pet's dietary habits and lifestyle and using preventative tools like Kidney-Chek will help avoid serious long-term illness. 


    Check out our sources for more information!

    German, A. J. (2016). Weight management in obese pets: the tailoring concept and how it can improve results. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 58(S1).

    Robb, D. (2021, November 23). Obesity in Senior Pets. Pet Butler; Pet Butler.

    Pegram, C., E. Raffan, White, E., Ashworth, A. H., Brodbelt, D. C., Church, D. B., & O’Neill, D. G. (2021). Frequency, breed predisposition and demographic risk factors for overweight status in dogs in theUK. ˜the œJournal of Small Animal Practice/Journal of Small Animal Practice, 62(7), 521–530.

    admin. (2023, October 17). What You Need to Know about Pet Obesity - IBPSA. IBPSA.

    Pet. (2014). Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention .

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