Are you seeing more pudgy pets coming into the veterinary clinic? Do your clients regularly reward their dogs and cats with food for good behavior? Or maybe you even give your furry pals a treat for a job well done. While this positive reinforcement may yield desired behavioral results, statistics indicate that we may be turning our pets into treat junkies. As Dr. Ernie Ward, lead researcher of the 2009 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study, puts it, "Today's treats are so loaded with sugar and fat I call them 'kibble crack.' Modern treats are creating cravings that go far beyond what is normal in many pets." Dr. Ward says the obesity problem is the greatest threat to the health of the U.S. pet population.
How bad is pet obesity? The study estimates that 34 million dogs and 54 million cats are overweight, figures which are up 2 percent and 5 percent respectively since 2007. Dr. Ward suggests that dog and cat treats are chiefly to blame, pointing out that to a 40-pound dog, a premium pig ear is equivalent to a six pack of 12-ounce sodas.
Another issue the study revealed is that many pet owners with overweight animals incorrectly label their pets as normal. Dr. Ward considers this distortion a serious problem: "When a pet owner looks at their chubby companion and views it as a normal, healthy weight, our nation's pets will continue to suffer the consequences of obesity."
One positive note is that 82 percent of pet owners do consider obesity to be a problem. Dr. Ward says the task now is to educate dog and cat owners about proper healthy weights for their pets and to teach them the best ways to deal with the issue.