Owners are gaining weight due to the pandemic, but did you know that pets are also packing on the excess pounds? With stay-at-home orders in place, many owners will likely overfeed their loyal companions but veterinarians say that while it is tempting to refill their pet bowls, it is better to feed their pets a healthy and balanced diet, according to Hannah Frishberg of New York Post, a daily newspaper in New York City.
Other owners may also overfeed their pets by giving them excess treats. “Some owners have indulged their pets with toys that involve food like puzzle feeders," Dr. Chad Dodd, a veterinarian in St. Petersburg, Fla, told British news agency SWNS. The outbreak may have caused pets to balloon, but it’s never too late for owners to take action to prevent pet obesity.
Surveys Detail Accidental Overfeeding and Its Consequences Among Pets
A 2018 international survey found that 54% of 5,309 cat and dog owners always or often give their pet food if they beg for it, cited Better Cities for Pets, a Mars Pet Care program. 22% of cat and dog owners sometimes overfeed their pets to keep them happy. 20% of respondents said they always measure how much food they are giving them and 87% said they always or often give their pet roughly what they think it needs at each serving.
Only 24% of cat and dog owners reported that their pet is overweight. But when asked whether their pet exhibited any symptoms of being overweight, 64% said their pet currently has at least one sign of being overweight like not being able to feel their cat or dog’s ribs or having to loosen their collar. The strong emotional bond between owners and pets might have contributed to excess weight, with 59% of cat and dog owners saying they feel rewarded when feeding their pet while 77% said their pets get excited when they feed it.
Sadly, most owners were not aware of the consequences of overfeeding as 61% were not aware that overweight pets may be at risk of diabetes and orthopedic disease. A lack of awareness was also correlated with reduced quality of life (53%) and a shorter lifespan (51%). Many individuals regularly monitored their weight, but 40% did not know how much their cat or dog weighs. Further, 22% said their pet has never been weighted and 72% reported that their veterinarian has talked to them about the emotional and health benefits of diet and exercise to their animals.
Apparently, 67% of respondents said they would like their veterinarian to more actively advise them on their pet’s weight. While 82% stated that they would like to be given healthy guidelines and advice to maintain their pet’s fitness and health. Sandra McCune, Scientific Leader, Human-Animal Interaction at Mars Petcare and speaker for the Weight Management Congress, concluded, “Our survey shows that pet owners are open to receiving more guidance about how to keep their cats and dogs fit and healthy.”
In a 2020 survey by Sure PetCare, a pet technology specialist, 72% of owners admitted to overfeeding their pets while 54% said they had never used weighing scales to measure their food, cited MSD Animal Health, whose focus is to preserve and improve the health, well-being, and performance of animals. 45% of owners did not know their pet’s existing weight, which is consistent with the aforementioned survey, and 35% did not know the correct recommended daily intake for their pet’s breed or size.
Only 15% of owners reported exercising their pet a few times a week. The report also revealed that 44% of owners had caught one pet stealing food from another animal’s bowl and 31% said they re-filled the bowl if this occurred.
Indoors Is the New Outdoors: Engagement Through Physical Activity and Cuddles
Dodd said, “With people being at home more often, pets will be bonding with their owners more.” He warned that pets should not be overlooked as they are also adjusting to the new normal. Dodd recommended that owners cuddle their pets during the pandemic. According to him, pets help comfort their owners, improving the latter’s mental health and decreasing their stress levels.
Pets can also serve as a reminder for owners to engage in physical activity. Dodd suggested walking up and down the stairs or creating obstacle courses around the house. However, owners should remember not to over-exercise their pet and use it as an excuse to go outside. Owners can also use the time to train their dog, which can be a good distraction from COVID-19-related news.
Mind the Food Intake
Banfield veterinarian Dr. Heidi Cooley told New York Post that it might be difficult for owners to help their pets reach their daily physical activity as most would stay indoors and avoid going to dog parks or taking advantage of dog walking services, cited Melkorka Licea.
“With owners spending increased time with their cats and dogs during quarantine, they may be showing affection with food more often,” Cooley added. A furry companion’s eyes may captivate its owner, but the latter should not succumb to temptation by measuring their pet’s food and limiting treats to more than 10% of their pet’s daily calorie intake, advised Cooley. Owners should also increase their pet’s physical activity. If an animal’s weight is not monitored, it can cause serious health complications such as arthritis and diabetes.
Maintaining Your Pet’s Weight As A Family Commitment
Maintaining your pet’s weight involves commitment from the whole family, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a not-for-profit association. Any weight loss plan will be ineffective if family members sneak extra treats. Family members can show their love for their pet through food, but there are other ways of expressing it without making their pet gain weight.
It is strongly recommended to avoid giving their pet food scraps and high-calorie treats. Keep them to a minimum and opt to feed pets with healthier food and treats. Families can also monitor and record the progress of their pet’s weight loss journey. There will be bumps along the way but shedding excess weight helps pets live a longer lifespan.
Owners should be aware of the consequences of overfeeding pets, as it can contribute to obesity and other health complications. Instead of food, owners can shower their pet with love by playing or cuddling with them.