Over half of U.S. dogs and cats are now overweight or obese, reports a recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. One-fifth of dogs and cats are obese -- weighing 30% over a healthy weight. America's obesity epidemic is apparently not just affecting humans.
Overweight pets suffer from a multitude of health issues including diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer. Last year, pets owners with one insurance company paid vets $25 million to treat obesity-related conditions such as asthma.
So who's to blame? According to The Wall Street Journal, pet owners and food manufacturers may be partially responsible. Although pet owners might have good intentions (or perhaps think their pet looks a little cuter when he waddles), overweight animals come most often from owners who overfeed their pets or don't exercise them frequently.
A number of pet owners have been accused of animal cruelty for starving a pet, such as the recent arrest of a woman from Queens whose pit bull weighed just 18 pounds. But it's only recently that overfeeding a pet has been considered perhaps animal cruelty as well. In what was deemed one of the first cases of it's kind, David and Derek Benton were convicted in 2007 for animal cruelty after they allowed their dog Rusty to become grossly overweight. The Labrador was twice the normal weight for a dog of his breed, suffered from painful joints and breathing problems, and struggled to stand up.
As for pet food manufacturers, they aren't required to list calories on their food labels unless the product advertises a low calorie content -- there is now a proposal to change this. Also, feeding directions are listed for the pet's "most demanding" life stage, meaning the directions may lead to overfeeding by 25%.
The good news is that many vets consider animal obesity to be the most preventable pet health crisis facing the U.S. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention recommends calculating calories for your pet. The website petobesityprevention.com lists the calories for many food brands. Aim for small high-protein, low carbohydrate meals. Also, make sure that your pet gets enough exercise every day. For dogs, this means 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking, and for cats, 5 to 15 minutes of short periods of an activity like chasing a toy.
What do you think? Should a pet owner be held responsible for his pet's weight?