Obesity is a growing major epidemic. (You’ve heard this before? Read on.) Obesity is affecting every age and every location. (“OK,” you may say. Keep reading.) Obesity can lead to life-altering and -threatening chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, bone and joint problems and hair coat problems. (“Yes, yes…er, what?”) Obesity leads to early death and rising healthcare costs. (You ask: “Certainly, but what do you mean by ‘hair coat problems?’”). Obesity is affecting nearly every population, every group, ranging from beagles to poodles to Labradors to Siamese to British Shorthairs to Terrapins. (“Wait, are we talking about people?”) Yes, there is a global human obesity epidemic, but there is also a growing pet obesity epidemic.

Here a 5-year-old obese dachshund walks on an aqua treadmill at El Perro aqua fitness club for dogs in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in the United States, an estimated 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats are overweight or obese. (Yes, a lot of fat cats.) This translates to the following estimates: 43.8 million overweight or obese dogs, 13.9 million obese dogs, 55 million overweight or obese cats, and 26.2 million obese cats. (Yes, this is the unfortunate truth about cats and dogs.) Common consequences of obesity for cats and dogs include heat intolerance, decreased stamina, reproductive problems, osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, breathing problems, ligament injuries, kidney disease, many types of cancer and decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years). Even though less data is available, anecdotal evidence suggests that obesity is a growing problem with other pet species such as birds and turtles.

What is happening and what are we doing to our pets? In some ways, the pet obesity epidemic lends insight to the human obesity epidemic. You can’t blame plus size pet models, the pets for being lazy, or other things that people to tend to incorrectly blame people for  with regard to obesity. As with the human obesity epidemic, the social, environmental, cultural and economic systems around pets are changing. For example, pet diets are changing with more calorie-dense and processed foods…just like human diets. Pets may not be moving around as much because their owners are becoming increasingly sedentary. (Could pet obesity be a sign or harbinger for human owner obesity?) And who knows what the effects of different medications such as antibiotics are having on pets.


So what can you do for your pet? No, you shouldn’t fat-shame your pets (e.g.,”Princess, you will never get someone to sniff you if you are fat.”). Here are several things:

Weigh and keep track of your pet: The problem is that you may not be able to tell if your pet is obese. There are no Madamefelines fashion magazines, Puppy’s Secret fashion shows, or Pets in the City television shows that set potentially arbitrary standards for how pets should appear and act. Except for Garfield perhaps, and he appears quite obese and shows that heavier pets may even appear “cuter” to owners. As with people, obesity is not purely an appearance issue for pets. Real scientific measurements such as the body condition score (BCS) are what matters. There may be some physical clues that your pet is overweight such as you can’t feel your pet’s ribs or see your pet’s waist. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) developed a set of Pet Size-O-Meters to help roughly evaluate your dog, cat, rabbit, bird or guinea pig.

Take your pet to the vet: Unless you know the ideal body weight and BCS specific for your pet’s species, breed and age (e.g., a hamster should not be as heavy as a sheepdog), a veterinarian will know better what numbers are in the healthy range. The veterinarian can also perform a physical exam and other relevant tests.

I cover the intersection of business, health and public health.

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