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Pet Obesity Steadily Increases in the U.S.


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Pet obesity in the U.S. increased in 2017, affecting 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). APOP’s tenth annual survey revealed opinions of pet owners and veterinary professionals on several pet food issues such as the benefits of corn, dry versus canned foods, whether or not pet food has improved and the best sources of pet dietary recommendations.

“We’re continuing to see more pets diagnosed with obesity rather than overweight,” said APOP founder, veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward. “Clinical obesity results in more secondary conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease and certain forms of cancer. Pets with obesity also have reduced quality of life and shorter life expectancy.”

In the October 2017 clinical survey, 56 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats were classified as overweight (body condition score (BCS) 6-7) or obese (BCS 8-9) by their veterinary healthcare professional. These results indicate an estimated 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats are above healthy weight, based on 2017 pet population projections provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). In 2016, APOP found 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats were overweight or obese in the U.S.

Pet owners and veterinary professionals were questioned about pet obesity, diet and nutrition, and sources of pet food advice. The survey found 58 percent of pet owners and 54 percent of veterinary professionals reported they had tried to help their own pet lose weight. Low-calorie and weight loss diets combined with increased exercise were the most cited weight loss strategies.

When asked what was the “biggest challenge to exercising dogs, “too busy” was the most common response, topping 25 percent of all pet owners and 43 percent of veterinary professionals. Behavior issues (21 percent pet owners and 19 percent veterinary professionals), inadequate access to exercise areas, and physical limitations of owner and pet completed the top four reported challenges.

Nearly half (48 percent) of pet owners stated that their veterinarian failed to recommend a maintenance or routine diet for their pet, and 15 percent commented that they “had to ask” to receive a pet food recommendation. Half of surveyed veterinary professionals replied they offered maintenance pet food recommendations.

When asked if they believed “commercial pet food is better or worse than ten years ago” (the melamine pet food recall was in 2007), 63 percent of pet owners and 76 percent of veterinary professionals reported pet food in 2017 was “better.”

“People food” for pets was generally considered “unhealthy,” with 65 percent of pet owners and 67 percent of veterinary professionals agreeing.

Organic pet food was perceived as “healthier” by 39 percent of pet owners, down from 43 percent in 2016, while 40 percent reported “I don’t know.” A quarter (26 percent) of veterinary professionals categorized organic pet foods as “healthier,” up from 15 percent in 2016, while 17 percent of veterinary professionals stated “I don’t know” when it comes to organic pet foods being “healthier” for pets.

When asked “Where do you receive the best dietary recommendations for your pet? (check all that apply),” pet owners and veterinary professionals differed in trusted sources.

Dry dog food dominated canned or moist with 53 percent of pet owners and 69 percent of veterinary professionals feeding dry kibble to their pets. Canned dog food was preferred by 17 percent of pet owners and 12 percent of veterinary professionals.

Cats were more evenly split in the APOP survey when it comes to feeding dry or canned foods. Dry cat food was fed by 49 percent of pet owners and 57 percent of veterinary professionals, and canned/moist food by 38 percent of pet owners and 33 percent of veterinary professionals.   

Raw diets continue to divide these two groups, although support of raw diets among pet owners appears to be diminishing and confusion increasing, at least according to this survey. When asked if they think raw diets are healthier for dogs and cats, 28 percent of pet owners (35 percent in 2016) and 13 percent of veterinary professionals (15 percent in 2016) said yes. On the flip side, 28 percent of pet owners (30 percent in 2016) and 72 percent of veterinary professionals (71 percent in 2016) said they do not believe raw diets are healthier for dogs and cats. Nearly half of pet owners (45 percent) of pet owners (35 percent in 2016) and 15 percent of veterinary professionals (14 percent in 2016) said they didn’t know whether raw diets were healthier for dogs and cats. 

Pet owners also reported confusion and disagreed with veterinary professionals about low- and no-grain diets and corn. Nearly half 46 percent of pet owners and 21 percent of veterinary professionals said low- or no-grain diets are healthier for dogs. More than half (63 percent) of veterinary professionals and 12 percent of pet owners do not believe low- or no-grain diets are healthier for dogs, and 43 percent of pet owners and 16 percent of veterinary professionals reported they didn’t know if low- or no-grain diets were healthier for dogs.

The annual obesity prevalence survey is conducted by APOP. Veterinary practices assessed the body condition scores of every dog and cat patient they saw for a regular wellness exam on a given day during the study period. Body condition scores based on a whole-integer, nine-point scale and actual weight were used in classifying pets as either underweight, thin, ideal, overweight or obese. The 2017 survey included the assessment of 1,610 dogs and 714 cats by 178 veterinary clinics.

The online questionnaire was completed by 1,215 pet owners and 544 veterinary professionals from October 11 to December 31, 2017. 

More results from the survey can be found in the infographics below. 

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