Half of the dogs and cats in this country are overweight, putting them at risk of joint pain, diabetes, and shortened life spans.
By Margaret Littman, Prevention
Americans aren’t the only ones whose waistlines are expanding–our pets are getting bigger too. “In twenty years I have watched pets get supersized in front of my eyes,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, a Calabash, NC, a veterinarian, author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter, and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
Just over half of all cats and dogs in US households are either overweight or obese, reports the APOP 2009 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study, and the reasons our pets are packing on the pounds aren’t that different from the reasons their owners are. Just as we’re eating larger portions and more snacks than a generation ago, so are our pets. Because our lives are busier, we’re less likely to get the exercise we need–and less likely to take a long walk with our dogs or engage our cats with a ball of yarn.
It might seem that an extra pound or two on our four-legged companions isn’t so terrible. But that little bit can be a significant percentage of a pet’s total weight. For example, a Yorkie who tips the scales at “just” 12 pounds is equivalent to a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 218 pounds.
Some owners disregard the health hazards associated with overweight pets and instead focus on how cute their plump cat or roly-poly puppy looks, says Nick Trout, DVM, a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and author of Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles. But overfeeding a fat cat or dog is basically loving it to death, says Dr. Trout. Overweight and obese pets not only have shorter life spans but also suffer from more medical problems during their lives, including back pain, arthritis, kidney disease, and diabetes–and they’re more expensive to care for as a result.