Pet obesity on the rise as owners treat animals like humans: Report

Carel du Marchie Sarvaas

Obesity is a growing problem in humans, feeding into a global epidemic. But now pets are also developing the condition, as owners treat their animals like people instead of animals, one global animal health organization says.

The global animal medicines association HealthforAnimals looked at obesity numbers for pets around the world and found some unsettling numbers. About 43.8 million dogs and 55 million cats are overweight or obese in the U.S. Vets in the U.K. said that almost half of dogs and cats in the country are overweight. And a study by Australian vets found that approximately a third of cats are obese, the organization said in a statement. A little more than a third of dogs on the continent are overweight and 7.6% are obese.

Part of the problem is the "humanization" of the pets' lifestyle and environment, HealthforAnimals said. More owners are overindulging their pets, either feeding them too much, feeding them the wrong types of food or not giving them enough exercise. As a result, the pets are becoming fat. In some cases, they also develop chronic, life-threatening conditions linked to obesity, including diabetes, arthritis and liver disease.

"Pet obesity is a serious problem with significant health and welfare implications for animals. Fortunately, there are many ways in which the animal health industry is tackling pet health problems, through education and promoting responsible pet ownership," Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director of HealthforAnimals, said in a statement.

The organization laid out some ideas for addressing the rise in pet obesity in a recent report on new animal health innovations. Vets can send owners' instructions for their pet's diet via mobile technology, for example. And policymakers can put pressure on the industry to create cat and dog food with better nutritional quality, which would in turn improve the animals' health.

Animal health professionals see a need to tackle the problem. A recent survey by HealthforAnimals showed that 40% of people working in animal health think that the industry could take a big role in fighting pet obesity.

But many pet owners are not wise to the trend. A recent survey from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 58% of cats and 53 percent of dogs were overweight last year. But more than 90% of these pets' owners pegged their animals' weight as normal. Correcting these misconceptions could play a key role in bringing down pet obesity numbers.

- here's the statement
- get the report (PDF)