SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

May 17, 2013

Vet Connection: The silent epidemic affecting our pets

Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy, and this tendency toward chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans. Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are. Recent surveys have shown that their veterinarians classify 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats as overweight or obese, but 15 to 22 percent of owners see those same pets as normal weight. In the words of the association’s founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.

What’s even worse is that despite veterinarians’ warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow. In recent years, the number of pets classified as obese (greater than 30 percent above normal body weight) has increased with each survey. This means that each year greater numbers of pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight-related problems.

Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems; the extra fat can cause fatty liver disease and aggravate arthritis. The fat molecules are a great source of inflammatory agents, called free radicals, which can aggravate the arthritis or any other inflammatory disease such as asthma or pancreatitis.

Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight, and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of increased body fat.

Above all, excess weight will shorten a pet’s life. A landmark study has shown that pets who take in a limited number of calories live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restriction.

Pet owners are the major gateway both to preventing pets from becoming obese and helping them lose the excess fat. After all, it’s the owner who controls the pet’s access to food.

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