You can't go into an ice cream shop these days without being reminded of how many people are overweight or obese.
Now it seems the same can be said of our pets.
A new report issued by Banfield Pet Hospital showed that 1 in 3 pets that visited one of its 900-plus facilities in the United States in 2016 was overweight.
The percentage of overweight cats grew by 169 percent over the past 10 years, while the number of overweight dogs increased 158 percent. That means a lot of plump Pomeranians.
It’s a people problem
Veterinarian Kirk Breuninger, VMD, who also holds a master’s degree in public health, and is a member of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, was the lead researcher on the project.
Getting pets’ weight down depends on human behavior, Breuninger told Healthline. That’s why the report is laid out as a “consumer friendly” chart.
“Nutrition is very involved,” he said. “It’s dependent on individual needs.”
His group did not investigate the effects of different pet foods or analyze the chemicals they contain, but he didn’t think that affected his results.
He sees behavioral issues as crucial.
“When people see pets as part of the family, they are more likely to hand out treats,” he said.
In a way, weight control is a simple equation.
“On one side is what they eat, on the other is what they use,” Breuninger said.
In the center is balancing those two sides.
But as many people know from their own love affair with cookies, it is not that simple.
One factor is the breed.
“There are genetic issues,” Breuninger pointed out.
Cocker spaniels, for example, gain weight easily.
And a gene has been identified in some Labradors that may cause then to feel hungry even when they are full.
The harm it does to pets
There are several components involved in pet obesity.
Breuninger identified overfeeding as one factor, which is often linked to lack of exercise, along with breed, genetics, and ignorance about what weight qualifies as “overweight,” the report concluded.
More than 20 diseases have been linked with pets being overweight, Breuninger said.
Some of these conditions include hypothyroidism, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, along with heart and respiratory disease.
Besides the ravages of disease, there is also a financial burden. Not only does the owner spend more on food, but it can also be costly to take care of ailing pets.
What can be done
Breuninger said the hospital staff plans to educate its clients using its report as an education tool, with vets talking to owners.
“We’ll start out slow, looking at what’s best for each pet,” he commented.
Even small changes can have big long-term effects, he said.
“Walking a little more would help. It can make a big difference.”
He noted that people may feel sluggish if they don’t get enough exercise, “and we have seen pets likely feel the same way, too.”
Breuninger acknowledged limitations with his data, since it all came from people who brought their pets to a Banfield facility.
“We think what we see in our practice is probably representative,” he said.
He added there was also a pet population that didn’t get regular checkups or preventive care. Poverty or illness may mean some pets see a vet only when a crisis has developed.
A report — Financial Costs, Behavior and Psychology of Obesity: A One Health Analysis — published in 2017 by the Journal of Comparative Pathology, reported similar findings.
In summary it says, “People who are overweight or have obesity are estimated to comprise 30 percent of the global population and up to 59 percent of companion dogs and cats are estimated to be above their optimal body weight. The prevalence of human and companion obesity is increasing.”
Looking after pets
It should come as no surprise that there’s an organization specifically devoted to obesity among our four-footed companions.
On Oct. 11, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) will conduct its 10th annual national pet obesity awareness day survey.
APOP was founded in 2005 by veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, a competitive Ironman triathlete, certified personal trainer, and accredited USA Triathlon coach.
Central to APOP’s mission is developing and promoting weight loss programs designed to help pet owners lose weight alongside their animals.
The organization has launched campaigns to fight pet obesity within the veterinary medical community, veterinary schools, and state and local veterinary organizations. It also has reached out to various media outlets.
Its proponents are veterinarians and veterinary healthcare personnel trying to make the lives of dogs, cats, all other animals and people healthier and more vital.
Participants in October’s study will receive a short questionnaire. APOP says it has handouts and instructions on how to complete the study, which is independent of any corporate sponsorship.