A Dangerous Trend in Pet Health: Fat is the New Normal

A Dangerous Trend in Pet Health: Fat is the New Normal

Story at-a-glance -

  • In 2011, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs in the U.S. were overweight or obese.
  • Many owners of too-heavy pets remain in denial about their fat dog or cat, which leaves them with little interest in providing a healthier lifestyle for their companion.
  • Overweight and obese pets suffer from weight-related diseases including osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and a reduction in both quantity and quality of life.
  • Extra weight on a cat or dog causes more immediate health problems than it does in humans. It’s not just about extra fatty tissue … it’s about important metabolic and hormonal changes in the body that can damage or destroy an animal’s health.
  • To get your dog or cat started on a weight loss plan: feed balanced, species-appropriate nutrition; practice portion control; and make sure your pet gets adequate exercise.

By Dr. Becker

Well, the latest depressing results are in, and I'm sad to report U.S. pets continued to get fatter during 2011.

A survey of veterinarians conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of adult cats are officially overweight or obese1.

In terms of how pet owners view their overweight four-legged companions, not surprisingly, fat has become the new 'normal.'

Fifteen percent of cat owners and 22 percent of dog owners view their too-heavy pets as being of normal weight.

Oddly, over 90 percent of pet owners are aware pet obesity is a problem, yet many don't acknowledge the furry obesity statistic living under the same roof with them.

Dr. Ernie Ward of APOP considers a major contributing factor to be commercial pet food and treats.

He points out that a typical dog treat fed to a 20 pound dog is the equivalent of a human eating 2 double-stuffed fudge cookies.

A pig ear fed to a 40 pound dog is like a human drinking a six-pack of 12 ounce sodas.

As Your Pet's Waistline Grows, His Lifespan Shrinks

The number of obese pets, defined as animals who are 30 percent or more above normal weight, or have a body condition score of 5, is on the upswing.

The APOP study found 25 percent of all cats and 21 percent of all dogs were obese in 2011, which is a jump up from 2010, when 22 percent of cats and 21 percent of dogs were considered obese.

According to Dr. Ward, "What this tells us is that more and more of our pets are entering into the highest danger zone for weight-related disorders."

Common weight-related health conditions seen in heavy pets include osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and a reduction in both quantity and quality of life.

According to Dr. Steve Budsberg, Director of Clinical Research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine:

"The prevention of obesity needs to be at the forefront of all discussions people have about the health of their pet with their veterinarian. The body of evidence that shows the negative impact of obesity on all the body's systems is overwhelming. As an orthopedic surgeon I see, on a daily basis, the effects of obesity on dogs and cats with osteoarthritis. It is very frustrating to see how much pain and discomfort excess weight has on my patients. Veterinarians and owners have the ability to stop obesity in our pets. No animal goes to the refrigerator or the pantry and helps themselves. We enable our pets to get fat!"

I couldn't agree more with Dr. Budsberg on this issue. In fact, in a recent article I discussed how little effort it actually takes – and the huge impact it makes – when an overweight dog who's having trouble getting around takes off a few pounds.

I also agree with Dr. Ward when he states, "Pet obesity is plainly a people problem, not a pet problem. The most important decision pet owners make each day regarding their pet's health is what they choose to feed it."

According to almost half the owners of overweight cats, their vet has never mentioned the problem to them. Three quarters of dog owners, however, report their vet has discussed the problem of obesity with them.

And less than 50 percent of cat owners have ever discussed nutrition or food choices with their vet, yet nearly 90 percent of dog owners report a discussion with their vet on the subject.

This is a disturbing trend I certainly hope my peers in the veterinary community take note of.

More Pet Obesity Statistics

Even though almost 7 million dogs and 22 million cats in the U.S. are obese, less than 10 percent of their owners acknowledge the problem. According to Dr. Ward, "The fact that few pet owners admit their pet is obese leads to a lack of interest in helping their pet lose weight."

A 95 pound male Golden retriever is the equivalent of a 214 pound 5'9" male or a 184 pound 5'4" female. Since Goldens are more inclined than many other breeds to suffer everything from allergies to hip and joint disease to cancer, I wish owners of these wonderful dogs would not add to their potential health problems by allowing their pets to grow overweight or obese.

A 10 pound Chihuahua? Now the 5'9" man is 282 pounds and the 5'4" woman is 242 pounds. Or how about that 15 pound domestic short-haired kitty? Picture 218 pounds on a 5'4" female frame, or 254 pounds on the 5'9" male.

The vast majority of dogs and cats are quite a bit smaller than adult humans, so it stands to reason that added weight on a smaller body has more significant, more immediate ramifications than added weight on a bigger body. And when you factor in the short lifespan of the average dog or cat, what you have is a pet whose already brief life will be cut even shorter, and the quality of that life will not be optimal as the animal develops the inevitable diseases that come with overweight and obesity.

Let's Turn This Trend on Its Head in 2012

If you feel as I do and want to be boasting about your pet's healthy weight loss and improved quality of life over the next several months, there's a vast amount of help available for you right here at Mercola Healthy Pets.

Some common sense tips to help you get started:

  • Feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet to your pet. Regardless of her weight, your dog or cat still needs the right nutrition for her species, which means food that is high in animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content.
  • Practice portion control -- usually a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right amount of calories for weight loss, controlled through the portions you feed, is what will take the weight off your dog or cat. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats.
  • Regularly exercise your pet. An overweight body gets back in shape by taking in fewer calories and expending more energy. Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.

More information for cat owners: Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat.

For dog owners:  How to Help Your Chunky Dog Release Excess Pounds