Pixabay, obese cat

While overweight pets and pet obesity have been on the rise for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the issue, according to a new study by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which is based in Topeka, Kan. The study, conducted in partnership with Kelton Global, revealed that more than 71 percent of pet professionals say the pandemic has impacted the way pets eat.

Thirty-three percent of pet owners with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic, according to the study. While a majority of pet owners (73 percent) say they would feel confident in knowing their pet is overweight without professional guidance, veterinarians state that only 12 percent of pet owners proactively flag concerns with their pet’s weight. Moreover, nearly two in three veterinarians say pet owners act surprised (64 percent) or defensive (64 percent) upon learning about their pet’s weight issues.

“Ironically, too much ‘treat love’ during these difficult times is the main culprit,” officials said in a statement.

With people spending more time at home, treats are often given as a form of love, with more than half (53 percent) of pet owners saying they’ve been giving their pets treats for no reason, according to the study. Now with the holiday season in full swing, officials said that it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better, with nearly 64 percent of pet owners admitting they spoil their dog or cat during the holidays. As a result, six in 10 veterinarians say they anticipate the dogs and cats they see in January are more likely to be overweight or obese, according to the study.

“Knowing that pet parents admit to spoiling their pets around the holidays, making people more aware of this change in behavior could help to manage their pet’s weight problems,” officials said.

About 36 percent of pet owners say their pet normally gains weight over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, and 44 percent say they expect their pet—and themselves—to gain weight this season, officials said, pointing to the study. Veterinarians say that giving treats in moderation is not an issue, with 56 percent advising that the occasional treat is fine, according to the study. However, 91 percent recommend giving fewer table scraps.

“Surprisingly, the majority of pet parents (52 percent) think it is easy to help their dogs or cats lose weight, but veterinarians disagree, with 91 percent saying it’s harder than owners think,” officials said. “However, those with overweight pets (31 percent with overweight dogs and 24 percent with overweight cats) feel it’s harder to help their pet lose weight compared to before COVID-19, and 49 percent of veterinarians agree it’s harder for pet parents to keep their pets at a healthy weight during the pandemic than before. Ultimately, veterinarians overwhelmingly recommend giving fewer treats (92 percent), more exercise (91 percent) and fewer table scraps (91 percent).”

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