Obesity Rates On the Rise Again for U.S. Pets
A recent article in the New York Times1 reported that adult obesity had risen to 38% of Americans in 2013 and 2014, compared to 35% in 2011 and 2012. Quoted in the article is Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University:
“The trend is very unfortunate and disappointing. Everybody was hoping that with the decline in sugar and soda consumption, that we’d start seeing a leveling off of adult obesity.”
Full-calorie soda consumption is down 25% nationwide since the late 1990s. Trans fat consumption is also down. A 2013 study2 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also shows that total calorie intake in adults has decreased since that same period when adult obesity was at 32%. Obviously the targets—soda, trans fats, etc.—for the cause of adult obesity have misidentified the problem. The Times article offers no opinions on solutions.
Well guess what? Our pets are experiencing the same trends in over-nourishment. A 2014 survey of veterinarians by the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reported that 58% of American cats were overweight, followed by 53% of dogs.
The research gathered by those of us on the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) task force to develop the guidelines for weight management in dogs and cats in 2014 estimated that almost 60% of pets were overweight.
Of that group of overweight pets, the APOP survey reports that 17.6% of dogs and 28.1% of cats were clinically obese in 2014. That is up from 16.7% for dogs and 27.4% for cats in a 2013 survey. Why? Veterinary orthopedic specialist Steve Budsberg sums it up best on the APOP website:
“The sad truth is that most people can’t identify an obese dog or cat. Whenever their veterinarian tells them their pet needs to lose weight they often can’t believe it because they don’t see it.”
I have read and shared with you some research over the last two years that confirms this. Compared to veterinary staff, owners consistently underestimate the body condition of their pets. My clinical experience is that pet owners consistently underestimate the calorie intake and grossly overestimate the exercise calorie output of their pets.
My colleague on the AAHA task force, celebrity veterinarian, author, and founder of APOP, Dr. Ernie Ward identifies the same problem on the APOP website:
“The ‘fat gap’ continues to challenge pet owners. Pet owners think their obese dog or cat is a normal weight, making confronting obesity difficult. No one wants to think their pet is overweight, and overcoming denial is our first battle.”
Overcoming the denial is even harder when overweight or obese pets are owned by the over-nourished pet owner. Discussion about their pet’s weight is often taken by the owner as a personal attack rather than an attempt to address the health of their pets. In fact, I no longer use terms like obese, overweight, weight, or weight loss when I talk to owners. I refer to the pet’s level of fitness and achieving a more fit state. I find those words are not emotional triggers for the overweight or obese pet owner and that they can accept a different level of fitness for their pets than for themselves.
My approach is not a panacea, but I find more willingness to initiate the discussion about how the smallest amount of excess fat is the most important health issue pets face. As you have heard me say repeatedly, fat is the body’s largest gland that secretes hormones promoting inflammation. And this state of constant inflammation is associated with most of the chronic diseases we treat in pets.
If you had an overweight pet, how would you want your vet to address it?
Dr. Ken Tudor
You can learn more on this topic at the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website.
1Obesity Rises Despite All Efforts to Fight It, U.S. Health Officials Say. Sabrina Tavernise. New York Times, Nov. 12, 2015
2Ford ES, Dietz WH. Trends in energy intake among adults in the United States: findings from NHANE123 Am J Clin Nutr April 2013 vol. 97 no. 4 848-853