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Pet Owners Fail to Recognize Signs of Obesity

Posted: April 8, 2014, 5:25 p.m. EDT


Research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has found that many pet owners are still oblivious to the fact that their cats and dogs are obese.

Out of 1,421 animals put to a veterinary assessment last fall, 57.6 percent of cats and 52.6 percent of dogs were classified as overweight or obese. Owners of the obese pets overwhelmingly considered their cat or dog to be of normal weight.

Obesity is avoidable, said Calabash, N.C., veterinarian Ernie Ward, the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

"Among all diseases that perplex the veterinary community and plague our population of pets, obesity has the greatest collective negative impact on pet health,” Dr. Ward said. "The pet industry is mighty and well-meaning, but it’s time we stop accepting the status quo. We must start working together to fight obesity through knowledge and action.”

The survey results, released today, showed little change from the previous year. Some 58.3 percent of cats and 52.5 percent of dogs were deemed overweight or obese in the fall of 2012.

 Dog and Cat
More than half of all U.S. dogs and cats are overweight or obese.
Why pet owners don’t recognize obesity in their furry friends is mystifying. Seventy-two percent of owners taking part in a follow-up study knew that obesity could lead to their cat or dog’s early death, but 42 percent of the respondents didn’t know what a healthy weight looked like.

Even more unsettling, 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners whose animals were assessed as obese considered them to be of normal weight.

Ward and his colleagues called the disparity a "fat gap.”

"The fat gap is rampant and we believe it’s the primary factor in the pet obesity epidemic,” said Joe Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and internist at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. "There’s an entire nation of pet owners who are loving their pets to death with too many calories and not enough exercise. They are in the dark that their pets are overweight and that a host of diseases can arise as a result.”

Ailments associated with pet obesity include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint injuries and cancer.

"The body of evidence indicating that obesity causes costly and painful conditions is clear,” Dr. Bartges said. "Without the obesity risk factor in place, the likelihood of pets getting many serious diseases is inarguably reduced.”

Not content to just recite statistics, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention is launching an industry coalition designed to raise awareness about overweight animals.

"The … coalition will invite partnerships with organizations that share the common goal of fighting obesity and supporting pets and their owners to create the healthiest household possible,” the association reported.

Among the association’s supporters is the Purina Cat Chow brand. The manufacturer, St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., today announced the "Why Weight?” campaign at CatChow.com/whyweight.

The website is designed to help cat owners determine whether their pet is a healthy size. The company hopes to obtain 100,000 cat owner pledges by May 2.

Purina Cat Chow also will donate $50,000 to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention to fund research and provide educational tools to veterinarians.

The study consisted of weight checks completed in October 2013 by U.S. veterinarians and an online survey carried out in December 2013 by the marketing firm Trone Brand Energy of High Point, N.C.

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