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Weight, Weight…Don’t Tell Me: Why Dog Owners Should Care about Pet Obesity

05/06/2019 06:00AM | 216 views

By Karen Faunt

I am lucky to have two beautiful dogs: A three-year-old collie named Juniper and a one-year-old Taiwanese Mountain Dog named Zeppo with unbelievably expressive ears. I love them both, and they bring so much joy to my life. 

I do everything in my power to make sure Juniper and Zeppo live healthy lives. I feed them high-quality, nutritionally balanced food, prioritize socialization and daily exercise, and ensure they receive veterinary care on a regular basis. And, of course, I give them as much love and affection as they can stand. I also spend a lot of time with them outdoors, enjoying the garden and burning off Zeppo’s boundless puppy energy. 

Keeping my dogs properly fed, well cared for and active also helps keep them at a healthy weight. I’ve always made this a priority, in part because as a veterinarian, I have seen the health impacts extra pounds can have on pets of all ages. 

A Growing Trend in Pet Health

In 2017, Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Health Report® detailed the rise in overweight pets across the U.S. Overweight dogs increased 158 percent over a 10-year period, and by 169 percent for cats during that same timeframe. Extra pounds can cause complications for pets with chronic ailments, such as orthopedic or respiratory diseases. 

 More specifically, it is believed that the following may be key factors contributing to the numbers of overweight pets in America: 

  1. Owners are likely overfeeding their pets, often because they don’t know how much is too much, they don’t know the nutritional content of the foods they’re giving their pets, and/or they use treats to express love and affection. 
  2. Many pets aren’t getting enough exercise. Too many dogs spend the majority of their days indoors, often with limited room to run and play, only going outside for short walks or a quick potty break in the yard. And while cats may seem perfectly happy napping in a warm spot in the house, many of them lack the enrichment and physical challenge of playtime. 
  3. Overweight pets seem to be the new normal. Many pet owners don’t have a benchmark against which to compare their pets’ weight. If overweight pets are considered “cute” on social media, and several dogs at the park are chubby, that becomes the new average. As a result, owners may not even know their pets are overweight until someone tells them.

Since releasing this report, Banfield has been working even harder to educate our clients about managing their pets’ weight, including helping them understand the healthy range for their pets and counselling them on proper nutrition and activity levels. We also want our clients to understand the potential impacts of extra pounds on their pets’ health. 

This effort is ongoing, and we continue to learn more about the effects of being overweight every year. Today, thanks to new research from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, we have another reason to believe an ideal weight can mean far more than a healthy life for pets. 

Leanness and Longevity Go Hand-in-Hand

In human health, evidence that weight is linked to longevity is compelling. Until now, there was lacking evidence that obesity has the potential to decrease the lifespan of our pets. 

That’s all changed with new research from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition that reveals overweight dogs are more likely to have shorter lives than those at ideal body weights. In fact, the research shows that dogs that maintain a healthy weight can live up to two and half years longer in some cases than those that are overweight. 

The study looked at data provided by Banfield from our proprietary electronic medical record system, PetWare, and examined the clinical records of more than 50,000 dogs from across two decades and in 12 of the most popular breeds. The correlation between being overweight and reduced lifespan was seen across all breeds, though it was more dramatic for small-breed dogs. This is an especially striking finding, as smaller dogs can put on excess weight very easily. 

As veterinary professionals, we know pet owners can find it hard to assess their pet’s weight and tend to underestimate how overweight they are. And, we often find that persuading pet owners to help their pets achieve a healthy weight can be just as much of a challenge. It is my hope that research like this, which gives pet owners better understanding the full impacts of excess weight not just on pet health, but on lifespan, can help veterinarians address or even prevent pet obesity. 

I’m optimistic about this new evidence, and more committed than ever to keeping Zeppo and Juniper healthy and fit. I hope every dog owner reading this is inspired into action, getting their canine companions on a road to a leaner, healthier and potentially longer life.

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This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

  

Karen Faunt is Vice President Veterinary Quality Operations at Banfield Pet Hospital. 

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