Does your furry friend always beg for the last bite of table scraps? It might be time to get serious about putting the leftovers away.
The majority of cats and dogs in the United States are obese or overweight – 59.5 percent of cats and 55.8 percent of dogs – a statistic that hasn’t budged in recent years, according to a survey of pet owners and veterinarians out Tuesday.
Even more troubling: The percentage of pets who are obese – defined as excessively overweight – is on the rise, the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention survey shows. In 2018, 18.9 percent of dogs and 33.8 percent of cats were obese. In 2013, 16.7 percent of dogs and 27.4 percent of cats were obese.
“It’s disappointing,” said Ernie Ward, a veterinarian and founder of the association. “At this point, we’re not expecting to see any major shifts toward progress.”
1. Understand obesity
Pet health is more complicated than just overeating and taking too many cat naps. Obesity in pets can be caused by poor lifestyle, hormonal imbalances, genetics or bacteria in your pet’s stomach and gut, according to Ward.
“People want it to be, ‘Oh, you’re just feeding them too much.’ It’s just not that simple,” Ward said. “It can be everything.”
The study also found that nearly 80 percent of veterinarians and 68 percent of pet owners reported they “had tried to help their pet lose weight,” using tactics such as reducing calories, increasing exercise and introducing prescription weight-loss diets.
“We know that they are trying something,” Ward said. “But most people are just feeding their pets the same food, but less of it.”
Pet owners should worry less about the amount of food that their pet is eating, Ward said, and more about ensuring their pet is getting enough nutrients and calories for the animal’s breed and level of activity.
Asking your veterinarian about a “therapeutic diet,” made up of food designed by doctors to have different levels of fiber or fats, is one way to make sure your pet is healthy and full, he said.
2. Toss the treats
The biggest culprit in preventing cats and dogs from shedding extra pounds is treats, Ward said. If you want healthier treats, look for options that have no more than 10 calories per serving.
“Most of the treats that are on the market today are so full of fat and sugar, and that makes your dogs crave them even more,” he said.
Ward gives his own dogs baby carrots, a sweet option with just a few calories each.
3. Don’t fall for fads
Ward warned against owners adopting “fad diets” to help their pets lose weight.
“If you want to start a fight, simply ask people what they feed their pets,” he said.
From no-grain diets to only feeding your pet raw meat or “fresh” food, Ward said dog and cat food companies often make widespread promises that may not work for your pet’s individual health.
“Each bag is proclaiming that a different diet is going to work,” Ward said. “Suddenly science isn’t involved. It’s like an ideology.”
Some trends have had success with many different animals, such as substituting a portion of your pet’s kibble for vegetables like green beans and sweet potatoes, he said.
4. Talk to your vet
Pet owners shouldn’t be afraid of bringing up any health concerns, especially because many vets are afraid of annoying or embarrassing owners.
Only 38 percent of pet owners said their veterinarian had suggested a weight-loss diet or routine, according to the survey. Twenty-two percent said they “had to ask,” and 40 percent said they “received no dietary advice.”
“Not having these conversations is at the detriment of the pet’s health,” Ward said. “Often, by the time I see a pet, it’s a 24-pound cat, so there’s already damage or a tremendous risk.”