The number of overweight cats is at an all-time high, according to the sixth annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). The organization found 58 percent of cats to be overweight or obese, as reported by their veterinarians. This is up 5 percent from 2010 survey results, which reported that 53 percent of cats were overweight or obese.
The current study also shows that 53 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. That equals approximately 80 million U.S. cats and dogs at increased risk for weight-related disorders such as diabetes, osteoarthritis and many cancers, researchers say.
“Pet obesity remains the leading health threat to our nation’s pets,” says APOP founder and dvm360 contributor Ernie Ward, DVM. “We continue to see an escalation in the number of overweight cats and an explosion in the number of type 2 diabetes cases.”
New York-based veterinary endocrinologist and APOP board member Mark Peterson, DVM, DACVIM, agrees. He says the soaring rate of feline and canine obesity is taking a toll on animal health. “There’s a vast population of overweight cats and dogs facing an epidemic of diabetes. The best preventive measure a pet owner can make is to keep their dog or cat at a healthy weight,” Peterson says.
The biggest problem? Many pet owners don’t recognize that their pet is overweight, says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, of the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In the survey, approximately 45 percent of cat and dog owners assessed their pet as having a normal body weight when the veterinarian assessed the pet to be overweight. Ward calls the phenomenon of incorrectly evaluating an overweight pet as normal “the fat gap.”
“The disconnect between reality and what pet parents think is obese makes having a conversation with their veterinarian more challenging,” Ward says. “Many pet owners are shocked when their veterinarian informs them their pet needs to lose weight. They just don’t see it.”
In the study, certain breeds showed greater risk for excess weight. Veterinary healthcare providers classified 59 percent of Labrador retrievers and 63 percent of golden retrievers surveyed as overweight or obese. Steve Budsberg, DVM, MS, DACVS, of the University of Georgia says he’s concerned about the development of weight-related musculoskeletal conditions.
“Once again, our data shows that obesity is rampant and we are certainly setting up more and more dogs and cats for joint problems during their lives,” Budsberg says. “This results in hundreds of millions of dollars in medical bills and countless surgical procedures for weight-related conditions. I find this extremely frustrating—this disease is easily treatable and even simpler to prevent.”
About the data
The 2012 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey analyzed data from 121 veterinary clinics in 36 states. In the study, 1,485 dogs and 450 cats were assessed. Labrador retrievers were the most common purebreed in the study—59 percent were classified as overweight or obese. German shepherds had the lowest purebreed obesity rate of 2 percent.
Ward also believes that there is a connection between pet and childhood obesity rates. Clients need to encourage children to put down their video games and pick up the dog leash to go for a walk, he says.