Pet Obesity: Good News and Bad News
Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s annual survey results revealed both good and bad news about overweight cats and dogs, plus a bit of confusion among pet owners.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) 10th annual survey on pet obesity revealed a rather discouraging—but not entirely unexpected—statistic. Despite increased attention to the issue and a shift toward feeding “all natural” and “grain-free” diets, pet obesity in the United States is still on the rise. In fact, pet obesity in the United States increased in 2017, affecting 60% of cats and 56% of dogs.
“The number of pets with clinical obesity continues to increase,” APOP founder Ernie Ward, DVM, said. “We’re continuing to see more pets diagnosed with obesity rather than overweight.”
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The results weren’t all disappointing, though. When asked about encouraging weight loss, 58% of pet owners and 54% of veterinary professionals reported that they had tried to help their own pets lose weight. The most popular efforts involved low-calorie and weight loss diets combined with increased exercise. When asked what prevented them from exercising their dogs, the most common response among both groups was “too busy,” followed by behavior issues, inadequate access to exercise areas, and physical limitations of the owner and pet.
Disparities in Dietary Judgment
One of the most interesting findings was the notable difference in how pet owners and veterinary professionals perceived diets and ingredients. For instance, when asked whether low- or no-grain diets are healthier for dogs, 46% of pet owners said yes, while 63% of veterinary professionals said no. Similarly, 63% of pet owners said corn was not healthy for dogs, but 50% of veterinarians said it was.
A particular area of confusion for pet owners who participated in the survey was raw food diets. A majority of veterinary professionals (72%) reported that raw diets were not healthier for cats and dogs. This is widely adopted as the stance in the profession, especially as food recalls and new studies highlighting the risks of raw diets continue to make headlines. The most common response among pet owners was that they simply didn’t know if raw diets were any healthier (45%). This was up from last year’s results, in which only 35% of pet owners reported that they were unsure.
One area that both groups did agree on, however, was that commercial pet food is better than it was 10 years ago (63% of pet owners and 76% of veterinary professionals).
The Veterinarian’s Role in Reducing Pet Obesity
The survey results reiterated that veterinarians and their teams play a pivotal role not only in identifying obese or at-risk patients but also in offering clients actionable advice on how to help their pets lose weight and maintain healthy lifestyles.
According to the results, 48% of pet owners said their veterinarian failed to recommend a maintenance or routine diet for their pet. This is in line with responses from veterinary professionals—as only 50% said they offered maintenance pet food recommendations.
When pet owners were asked where they receive the best dietary recommendations for their animals, “veterinary professionals” was the most popular choice (57%) but was followed very closely by online searches (52%).
In addition to helping pet owners understand the immediate impact obesity has on companion animals, the long-term effects must be addressed. “Clinical obesity results in more secondary conditions, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and certain forms of cancer,” Dr. Ward explained. “Pets with obesity also have reduced quality of life and shorter life expectancy.”