Weight issues continue to expand for U.S. dogs and cats

The number of overweight and obese dogs and cats continued its upward trend in 2012, with more cats than ever tipping the scales at unhealthy weights.

The 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey published by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) also revealed that despite the rising numbers of overweight pets, many people in the United States are oblivious to their pets’ declining health.

Following are some of the trends highlighted in the survey that have APOP members deeply concerned about the health of America's pets.

Staggering numbers

According to 121 veterinary clinics surveyed in 36 states, 52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats they examined were overweight or obese. Those percentages project out to an estimated 80 million dogs and cats in the United States that are overweight or obese, and therefore vulnerable to serious health conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and certain cancers, APOP reported.

The numbers for cats are especially noteworthy because they indicate that the number of overweight or obese cats is at an all-time high.

Certain breeds more predisposed to weight issues

Some dog breeds appear to be more at risk for weight problems than others, APOP reported in the survey. Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers were two of the most commonly overweight or obese pure breeds, at 58.9 percent and 62.7 percent, respectively. In contrast, German shepherds were one of the least overweight breeds, with a pure breed obesity rate of 2.1 percent.

Many owners are blind to the problem

The 2012 survey reinforced results from previous surveys indicating that many pet owners view their overweight pets as being within a normal weight range.

“In this survey, approximately 45 percent of cat and dog owners assessed their pet as having a normal body weight when the veterinarian assessed the pet to be overweight,” said Dr. Joe Bartges, from the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The difference in perception between owners and veterinarians can be challenging for veterinarians, who need to first alert owners to the problem and then convince them of the need for immediate weight-management measures, said Dr. Ernie Ward, APOP founder and lead veterinarian.

Numbers underscore need for preventive care

One of the main takeaways from the 2012 survey is that preventive care is more necessary than ever in order to prevent weight-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, and hypertension, according to Ward.

“Our goal is to help pets and people live longer, healthier, and pain-free lives by maintaining a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and physical activity,” Ward said. “The most important decision a pet owner makes each day is what they choose to feed their pet. Choose wisely. Your pet’s life depends on it.”

Read more about the survey at the APOP website