Pet Obesity is on the Rise. Here’s What Veterinarians Need to Know.

As veterinarians, we know how important it is for pets to maintain a healthy weight. Part of caring for our patients means counseling pet owners on proper nutrition and exercise –  and offering medical intervention when a pet’s condition warrants treatment.

Despite what we know, a look back over pet visits to Banfield Pet Hospitals over the past 10 years revealed one in three dogs and cats in the U.S. is overweight or obese. That, and the prevalence of overweight dogs has increased by 158 percent and 169 percent in cats during that time.

The disturbing trend doesn’t stop there. Other weight-related health issues that can affect a pet’s quality of life are also increasing. But why is this happening, and how does it impact pets, their owners and the veterinary profession? Our 2017 State of Pet Health® Report has some answers.

Every year, we capture and analyze medical data from Banfield pet visits to help inform pet owners and the veterinary profession. In 2017 year, we dove into overweight and obesity trends – and potential reasons it’s becoming more common for U.S. pets.

People Have Grown Accustomed to Overweight Pets

Among the primary issues we see is that overweight dogs and cats are considered “the new normal” by too many. As such, it can be hard for pet owners to tell what a healthy shape and weight is for their pet.

Lacking the right education and appropriate context, pet owners may not take action in managing their pet’s weight until they are severely overweight or health-related issues are in full swing. Additionally, we’ve found some owners are less likely to follow a veterinarian’s recommendations on nutrition and lifestyle modifications until their pets’ weight gain is far too obvious.

The same reality is true for pet nutrition. Free-feeding can encourage overeating, and even pet owners who offer portion-controlled feedings at approximately the same time every day may not know what, when and how much to feed their pets. This includes the habit of feeding pets human food and table scraps as treats or snacks, which can be high in calories and fat.

With pets increasingly considered members of the family, pet owners are also using food as a sign of love and affection. Encouraging pet owners to substitute other rewards in place of treats, such as belly rubs and play time, can effectively reduce the number of excess calories pets consume each day, and yet still provide that approval or affection.

Understanding the Health Risks Associated with Excess Weight

Perhaps what’s more concerning than the overweight and obesity trends in pets are the more than 20 diseases they are linked to, known as comorbidities, for example arthritis, respiratory disease, diabetes, urinary incontinence and cardiovascular problems. With arthritis alone, we’ve seen an 82 percent increase in dogs and a 165 percent increase in cats in the last decade.

To complicate this, overweight and obese pets that suffer from conditions like arthritis may struggle shedding excess pounds – especially if their mobility is restricted. Age also plays a significant role, with pets greater than three years old making up the majority of overweight pets. 

Early and Effective Client Engagement is Key to Addressing Pet Weight Issues

One thing’s for sure: Overweight and obesity have reached epidemic levels in dogs and cats in the United States. It is up to the veterinary profession and pet owners alike to partner on reversing this trend through increased awareness, educational opportunities, and effective communication and action.

Check out Banfield’s 2017 State of Pet Health Report for more information, recommendations and tools for pet owners and veterinary professionals alike. Together, we can partner to improve the health and wellbeing of the pets we love so much.

Daniel Aja, Chief Medical Officer, Banfield Pet Hospital

Dr. Daniel Aja leads Banfield’s internal and external veterinary medicine initiatives. Prior to joining Banfield in 2014, Dr. Aja served as director of professional and veterinary affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition. He brings 26 years of experience in private practice, including 22 years as owner of the Cherry Bend Animal Hospital in Traverse City, Michigan. Dr. Aja earned his veterinary medical degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.