Pet obesity is on the rise with the majority of pet owners not even acting on the issue due to being unaware of it or completely disregarding it. But vets all across the country see the worrisome trend of overweight pets, a problem that comes with an awful quality-of-life cost for pets and financial one for their owners.
Obesity—the “Quiet” Pandemic
It was in 1948 that the WHO recognized obesity as a disease, but it would take half a century before somebody would turn serious attention to the problem which now carries the status of a pandemic.
The world is yet to deal with obesity, and in some countries, notably the US, things are getting worse.
But the trend has also transferred to pets, many of which are falling victims to overfeeding and the “look-how-cute-you-are” effect where owners consider their overweight pets to be nothing more than a chubby ball of fur.
“Veterinarians report that nearly half the dogs they see are overweight or obese, although only 17 percent of owners acknowledge that their pets are too fat,” reports the New York Times.
The media also quoted Deborah Linder, the head of Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals Clinical Nutrition Service, saying that some owners know about their pets being overweight but don’t consider it a problem.
Obesity is Hurting Pets…
Carrying extra weight, however, affects pets no different than how it affects people.
According to recent findings by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats can be classified as overweight or obese, reports PetMD.
The online medical resource warns that overweight and obese pets are at risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, liver disease and cancer among a host of other illnesses. Once developed, these diseases require extensive therapy and take a heavy toll on pets’ quality of life.
For example, arthritis—a chronic disease that pets can develop due to excessive weight, makes it difficult for cats and dogs to do their business when nature calls let alone to partake in a physical activity which further contributes to the problem.
…and Their Owners’ Pockets
The situation with overweight and obese pets also comes with a financial burden. The New York Times quoted Nationwide—the country’s leader in pet insurance, is reporting that
“[i]n 2017, obesity-related insurance claims for veterinary expenses exceeded $69 million, a 24 percent increase over the last eight years […],” adding that only 2% of pets are covered by insurance.
The hefty vet bills associated with weight-related treatments are not always affordable for pet owners. From there it only goes downwards.
Some pets are left on their own devices, without treatment, and living a miserable, painful, disease-ridden life Others are put up for adoption, left at a shelter, or even on the street. Some of them are put down.
A 2015 study by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that:
Of the 46% who responded they’d given up a dog or cat due to a pet-related issue, 26% said they could not afford medical care for their pets’ health problems.
The Humane Society of the United States has a resource page with guidance for pet owners who can’t afford vet care.
Best Treatment Is Prevention
Fortunately, all is not lost with overweight pets as British scientists discovered that the diminishing quality of life among overweight and obese pets could in some cases be reversed if the animal loses the extra pounds.
However, this shouldn’t come as a relief given that in some more serious cases the damage has already been done to the point that treatment can somewhat mitigate but not reverse the consequences.
Prevention is the best option, and it all boils down to portion control and physical activity.
Free-feeding—the practice of leaving pets a full bowl of food at all times—is a preference for most owners. It’s more convenient, and the pets don’t mind it either.
The convenience, of course, comes at the cost of inevitably getting an overweight pet.
“I’ve never met an animal that could free-feed and still lose weight,” said Dr. Linder.
If left a bowl of food, a cat or a dog will not turn it away simply because it fears it will get fat.
Vets also advise pet owners to not count too much on what they read on pet food labels. The suggested serving sizes there are only guidelines that shouldn’t be taken to heart.
Instead, pet parents should consider whether their pet needs to lose, maintain or gain weight which is best done under the guidance of a vet. Life stage, current weight, physical activity, and present illnesses all play a factor in how much calories an animal needs per day.
Treats Also Count
Speaking of calories, treats are often neglected as a source of energy.
Small and innocent as they might look, these additional meals quickly add up to the pet’s daily consumption. Vets advise that treats should make no more than 10% of a pet’s diet.
This proves a challenge for pets owners due to the “I’m starving” trick. Cats are especially good at guilting their owners into giving them an extra portion—rolling on the floor, belly-up, meowing, scratching, biting, there’s nothing a cat won’t do to get it her way. Dogs are no different, with the “puppy eyes” look being their favorite act.
Vets warn that pet owners shouldn’t give in during such spectacles because pets that are meeting their daily nutritional requirements are not hungry for food—they are craving attention.
Solutions for Busy Pet Parents
It is not always possible for pet owners to be there for their pets when they need attention or to feed them several times a day. This is especially so for pet parents who are working during the day.
In such cases, a timed feeder might be a good investment. These devices only open up a food tray at preset times of the day telling pets that the rest of the time is a no-food time.
The market is abundant in types of automatic pet feeders—from simple ones using a mechanical timer to more advanced, and more expensive, Wi-Fi connected models that connect to the pet owner’s smartphone allowing for remote control.
Treat dispensers are also something that pet parents can look into. They also come in various forms but here too the idea is to exercise portion control and to let pets work for their treats. Treat dispensers made in the form of mazes and toys are particularly useful for pets that don’t get much exercise as these toys only let out treats after rough play.