Deborah Linder, head of Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals and contributing writer of news and analysis website The Conversation, was surprised when an athletic man brought his 20-pound cat for an appointment. The man told Dr. Linder that he instructed his cat to “do some kitty pushups” or it would not receive treats. When she asked what’s stopping him from doing it, the man guiltily replied, “Well, Dr. Linder, I mean… she meows at me…”
Dr. Linder realized that she needed to focus more on the relationship between owners and their pets, and less on the pet. As cats and dogs gain more weight, they experience the same health complications that overweight, inactive individuals experience such as diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, cancer, and more. Losing your pet’s excess weight is a lot more complicated than you think. In fact, you will need to consult your veterinarian to help you design a weight loss plan appropriate for your loyal companion’s age and health.
Veterinarians and Owners’ Perceptions of Pet Obesity
The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), the leading trade body for the UK pet food industry, surveys veterinary professionals at London Vet Show every year. The association also spoke with 277 veterinarians on their insights on nutrition and obesity in November 2018. 100% of veterinarians were concerned about the prevalence of obesity. 73% said it was “one of the most prevalent conditions seen."
74% of veterinary professionals believed that the prevalence of obesity increased over the last five years. They said that 51% of dogs (versus 45% in 2015), 44% of cats (versus 40%), and 29% (versus 28%) of small mammals were either overweight or obese. Each year, the PFMA collaborates with TNS and Solus Consulting to commission research among 8,000 households. They also spoke to pet owners with regard to their perceptions of obesity and nutrition habits.
68% of owners believed that their pet is exactly the right size while 67% stated that they are not concerned about pet obesity. 8% admitted that their pet needs to shed some weight while 12% said their pet needed to shed a small amount of weight. 57% of owners had not discussed their pet’s weight with their vet. 46% of owners judged their pet’s weight just by looking at it, 16% said they guessed, and 12% looked at a body condition chart. Only 2% of owners had weighed their pet themselves.
98% of veterinarians believed that feeding “too many treats” contributes to overweight and obesity issues that affect pets. 23% of owners said they feed table scraps to their pets, but 41% said that feeding scraps could be blamed for their pet’s obesity. 88% of veterinarians believed that overfeeding is a contributing factor in the rise in obesity, as owners do not follow a product’s feeding guidelines. Only 49% of owners agreed with said statement.
With regard to reading food labels, 56% of veterinarians stated that food packaging guidelines were unsuitable. 30% of owners said they have read the packaging on the food product while 11% reported reading it in the past. When it comes to exercise, 80% of veterinarians and 44% of owners believed that a lack of exercise leads to pet obesity. The latter figure could mean that pet owners lacked the time to play with their pet or take their pet for a walk.
Expressing Your Love Through Food
Is it about genetics, high-calorie foods, and a lack of exercise? Or is it because owners overfeed their pets? Dr. Linder said it is a bit of all of the aforementioned factors. Many practitioners in veterinary medicine tend to focus more on traditional diet and exercise plans and less on the reason why these pets become obese.
The veterinary medicine field has started to understand that obesity among pets is more about their relationship with their owners than food. Dr. Linder noted that owners treat their pets like family members, meaning there’s a deeper emotional and psychological bond that was not as present when your family dog was just the family dog. If veterinarians can identify an overindulgent pet parent, they will be able to formulate strategies to help owners avoid expressing their love through food.
Managing Pet Obesity Requires Collaborative Work Between Practitioners
Veterinarians, physicians, and psychologists need to work together to manage obesity. Interestingly, many veterinary schools and hospitals have social works who aid veterinarians in understanding the social aspect of the human-animal bond, including its impacts on pet care. To illustrate, a dog owner who has lost their partner and feeds ice cream every night to their dog may try to replace a tradition they used to have with their then-alive spouse.
In that regard, a social worker with a background in psychology could prepare a plan that takes into consideration the owner’s bond with their pet without compromising their companion’s health. Dr. Linder believed that programs that help improve and support the human-animal bond without overfeeding your pet will play a significant role in preserving your loving relationship with your furry companion. This way, you can eliminate the “food is love” mentality.
Think Your Pet Is Obese? Watch Out for These Signs
Obesity is preventable but that does not mean you should not be mindful of your pet’s weight, stated RSPCA Pet Insurance, a provider of pet insurance in Australia. Excess fat around your pet’s stomach is a sign of obesity; however, you should also look for fat deposit over its spine, the base of its talk, and around their neck and limbs. If you don’t see the typical waist and abdominal “tuck” in healthy cats and dogs, that’s another warning sign of obesity.
Most animals keep themselves clean, but when your pet is unable to groom itself as usual and if it can’t reach certain areas of its body due to its size, it’s a sure sign of obesity. Watch out for difficulty breathing and constant panting even from the simplest activities. Another sign you should be aware of is when it has trouble breathing even if your pet has not moved an inch.
It is recommended to know your pet’s ideal weight and have it monitored regularly using a scale at home or in your veterinarian’s office. Use a visual guide to help you determine whether your pet is underweight, healthy, or obese.
Food should be given to pets not because you want to express your love through crunchies, but because you want it to be healthy. Food gives pets energy and the nutrition they need, but overindulging them leads to excess weight gain. This is unhealthy because it impairs your pet’s ability to move and to be active during play. Veterinarians, physicians, and psychologists need to collaborate to understand how the human-animal bond contributes to obesity in pets.