It’s no secret America’s in a fight against fat. But, these days, humans aren’t the only Americans being affected by our obesity epidemic. Our pets’ waistlines are bulging, too. In fact, 54 percent of our nation’s pets are overweight or obese, according to the latest survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Being heavy isn’t cheap, either. Research shows Americans spent millions of dollars last year in obesity-related veterinary costs alone.
“Obesity is, by far, the most common health issue we see as family veterinarians,” says Debra Draper, DVM, medical director at Cypress Creek Animal Hospital in Lutz, Fla. “Ironically, the serious and costly diseases associated with being overweight are also the most preventable.”
Draper adds that pet obesity remains a leading cause of preventable disease and death in dogs and cats.
High Risk, Soaring Costs
“Some pet parents might not see a problem with their pet’s extra pound or two,” Draper points out, “But in a down economy like this one, pet owners will likely take issue with paying higher veterinary bills and that’s what having an overweight pet often leads to.”
Just a few extra pounds on your pet can be comparable to 30-50 extra pounds on a human. When a pet is overweight, their whole body has to work harder to support those extra pounds.
From diabetes to arthritis, cruciate ligament rupture, hypertension, and even asthma, studies show the risks of being a fat pet are very high. “The costs to treat these conditions can become costly,” explains Draper. “And some evolve into chronic, incurable conditions.”
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) estimates weight-related diseases and problems cost its policyholders more than $28 million last year. Sure enough, some of the most common claims included illnesses like diabetes and joint and back issues.
Cutting Corners May Actually Add Fat
“In this economy, pet owners are often tempted to switch to cheaper pet food brands to cut corners,” Draper says. “The problem is less expensive diets are often made to taste extra flavorful by adding calories and unhealthy byproducts, which can fatten pets up. Making sure a pet eats quality diet in the proper amounts can literally add years to their life and save pet owners dollars in the long run.”
What Can You Do?
To help pets maintain a healthy weight and live longer, Draper offers these tips:
- Control portions. Feed your pets according to their body weight and age. Your vet can help you determine the best amount and type of food for your pet.
- Take a walk. Increase your pet’s activity gradually if they aren’t accustomed to regular exercise.
- Make exercise fun. Cats love hunting, so hiding treats around their environment puts their instinct to work, while giving them a workout.
- Visit your veterinarian. Regular vet visits are the single most effective way to keep a close tab on your pet’s health. The earlier you catch a weight-related issue, the less life-threatening and costly it could become.
- Diet responsibly. Diet carefully with guidance from your vet. Losing too much weight too quickly can be dangerous to pets (especially cats).