More than half of U.S. pets are overweight – but why?

Steve Dale is the host of the nationally syndicated radio shows Steve Dale’s Pet World and The Pet Minute with Steve Dale. His column, My Pet World (of which this post is an excerpt — read the full post here), is carried in more than 100
newspapers nationwide and his new column, The CATalyst, just debuted. Steve also serves on the board of directors for
the American Humane Association.

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According to a survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 53% of cats and 55% of dogs in the U.S are overweight or obese. Data released from a nationwide collaboration with Banfield Pet Hospital reveals pet obesity continues to be a serious problem. [A 2004 study by Nestle Purina Pet Care found dogs with a healthy body weight had a median lifespan of 15% longer than overweight dogs. Read more about the dangers of pet obesity.]

So, how and why are our pets growing wider and wider? I talk about this to veterinary professionals around the world at veterinary conferences. Here, in a random order, are some reasons why there are so many overweight pets.

1) Some pet parents believe overweight is “normal.” People may not recognize their pets as overweight since the pets didn’t grow wider overnight. The trend of overweight pets has been happening for decades. So, while 20 years ago, those same pet parents might have been shocked, today the view of what is a normal is skewed.


2) In small dogs and cats even a few pounds can be the difference between a healthy weight and obese.
Think about it, it maybe 3-lbs gained in six months in a 14-lb cat or
20-lb dog — that’s like me or you gaining around 15-20 percent of our
own body weight. Still, because it is only a few pounds, and because you
live with that pet, it may be hard to notice without the pet being
weighed.

3) Veterinarians may have a hard time bringing up the subject. Some veterinarians do so, and are ignored.

4) Dry food-only diets may lead to eating more calories.
As the moist food vs. dry food debate for feeding cats rages on, it
does seem clear that — for some cats — a diet of dry food only may add
pounds.

5) Too many table snacks are adding extra calories.
There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of turkey (for example), if
there’s no fat on the slice. But one slice for a Yorkshire Terrier is
very different than a slice to a German Shepherd — a 65-lb. German
Shepherd can easily handle that occasional slice. To a 7-lb. Yorkie, a
generous slice is nearly like you or I eating a quarter or half a
turkey. While little mini carrots or little pieces of apples are
actually healthful to dogs (as they are for us), we tend to offer what
dogs like (salty lunch meats, for example). Again, truth is, every once
in a while, it’s likely no big deal — but many pet parents make these
table snacks a daily ritual and the calories do add up.

6) Free-feeding may lead to eating more.We tend to
free-feed our cats, leaving the food dish out all the time. Most people
with a cat actually have more than one cat. How do pet parents know
which cat is eating and how much? Well, you can’t know. What’s more, in
time the cats train us to be automatic food dispensers. While some cats
do have an “automatic turn off switch” for their appetite, many do not.
If food is there — they will either nibble away at it, or chow it down.

7) Most pets don’t get enough exercise. This is very
true for dogs, and likely even more true for cats. We mistakenly believe
cats either don’t need or won’t want to exercise. As dogs or cats move
around less, their metabolism transforms over time. And this is when the
snowball effect occurs — the cats or dogs move around less, except to
eat more. Their metabolism transforms slowly, so they are less inclined
to want to move around — so they gain even more weight and on and on.
It’s safer for cats to be indoors only — but as we’ve kept them inside
only, they often do little indoors, except to eat. [Check out our games for cats and dogs blog category for tips on how to keep your pet active.]

Do you suspect your pet is overweight? Be sure to talk to your vet during your pet’s next exam.

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