Most Pets In The U.S. Are Overweight, But Diet And Exercise Aren’t The Solutions


Dog and cat together

Most dogs and cats in the U.S. are suffering from obesity, new data shows. According to a recent survey of pet owners and veterinarians by the Associaton of Pet Obesity Prevention, the majority of cats (59.5%) and dogs (55.8%) in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

APOP researchers say the number of pets that are overweight or obese hasn’t declined in recent years. In fact, the percentage of pets that are obese is actually on the rise. Up to 18.9% of dogs and 33.8% of cats were obese in 2018. That’s a 2.2% and 6.4% increase respectively since 2013.

“It’s disappointing,” said Ernie Ward, APOP founder and veterinarian. “At this point, we’re not expecting to see any major shifts toward progress.”

Ward says that pet obesity is complicated and can’t be narrowed down to overeating and lack of exercise. Pet obesity can be caused by genetics, hormonal imbalances, the bacteria in the pet’s stomach, or poor lifestyle.

“People want it to be, ‘Oh, you’re just feeding them too much.’ It’s just not that simple,” said Ward. “It can be everything.”

Approximately 80% of veterinarians and 68% of pet owners said they tried to help their pets lose weight using reduced calories, prescription weight-loss diets, and increasing exercise.

Ward says pet owners need to worry less about the amount of food their pets are eating and more about making sure their pets are getting enough nutrients and calories for their level of activity and their breed.

Therapeutic diets are foods designed by doctors to have different levels of fiber or fats, said Ward, which is one way to make sure a pet is healthy and full.

Pet owners should avoid adopting fad diets for their pets. No-grain diets and raw meat diets may not work best for your pet’s individual health, Ward says. Other trends like vegan diets for pets are outright dangerous and prevent pets from getting the vitamins and nutrients they need.

Ultimately, when it comes to helping your pet lose weight, it’s crucial to talk to your veterinarian. According to the APOP survey, only 38% of owners said their veterinarian suggested a weight-loss diet or routine for their pet and 22% said they had to ask their vet. Another 40% said they received no dietary advice.

“Not having these conversations is at the detriment of the pet’s health,” said Ward. “Often, by the time I see a pet, it’s a 24-pound cat, so there’s already damage or a tremendous risk.”

It’s also important to ask your vet about your pet’s weight because weight-loss treatments that work for other pets may not work for yours. For instance, one in four dogs in the U.S. has some form of arthritis and may not be able to go on long walks.

Other dogs may not be able to play in the house if their owner has hardwood floors. Hardwood floors may be easier for homeowners to clean and engineered bamboo floors can be refinished twice in their lifetime. But older dogs can lose traction in their paws as they age and might slip on these types of floors.

And now, with spring officially here and summer on the way, veterinarians also reminding pet owners that obese pets and pets with thick coats are at greater risk for heat stroke.

Never leave your dog alone in the car and always keep your thermostat around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Employment for HVAC mechanics is expected to grow by 15% by 2026, so you can be sure to find a professional to help you keep your air conditioner working.

That said, be aware of your pet’s health, happiness, and comfort. Owners worried about their pet’s weight or lifestyle need to create a sensible and sustainable weight-loss program that caters to the individual needs of their pet in terms of lifestyle, age, and breed.

“Veterinarians need to expand their advice beyond ‘feed less and exercise more,'” said Ward, “and search thoroughly for other causes [and solutions to pet obesity].”