CALABASH, NC. — The humanization of pets and increased awareness of pet health has led to an innovation boom in the pet nutrition industry, from minimally processed meals to treats designed to mimic human foods to supplements offering functional benefits. As these movements continue to flourish throughout the industry, pet health and longevity has seemed to improve. However, pet obesity continues to rise.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) 2022 State of US Pet Obesity report, pet obesity rates have been steadily increasing for decades. In 2022, 59% of dogs and 61% of cats were classified as overweight or obese, compared to 56% of dogs and 60% of cats in 2018. As detailed by APOP, obesity in pets is not just a weight issue, but can also increase the risks of several other health issues, including skin and respiratory problems, metabolic and endocrine disorders, renal dysfunction, orthopedic diseases, osteoarthritis, decreased life expectancy and more.
“While we have witnessed an increase in obesity awareness by veterinary professionals and pet owners over the past two decades, we need continued innovations in diagnostic tests and tools, interventional therapeutics and diets, and resources to encourage compliance and adherence to weight loss programs,” wrote Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, founder and president of APOP. “It is time to shift our efforts from raising awareness to treating pet obesity.”
The current situation
To dive deeper into the increasing rate of pet obesity, APOP conducted a Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey, analyzing 1,152 pets (880 dogs and 272 cats).
The survey found that 37% of dogs were considered overweight, which remained consistent from 2018, and that 22% were considered obese, an increase from 19% in 2018. Twenty-eight percent of cats were deemed overweight, an increase from 26% in 2018, and 33% were deemed obese, consistent with data from 2018.
With this in mind, APOP shared that many dog and cat parents fail to recognize overweight or obese conditions in their furry companions. When asked the weight condition of their pets, almost one-third (32%) of owners with an overweight or obese pet claimed their pet was not overweight or obese.
Thirty-six percent of dog owners believed their dog’s body condition to be “normal” when actually classified as overweight to obese, whereas 28% of cat owners believed their cat’s body condition to be “normal” when actually classified as overweight to obese. Nine percent of dog parents deemed their dog’s body condition to be “normal” when in fact the dog was classified as obese, and 7% of cat parents deemed their cat’s body condition to be “normal” when the cat was actually classified as obese.
Though pet obesity rates continue to rise, the frequency of which veterinarians discuss weight/body condition with pet owners remains relatively the same. In 2022, 49% of pet parents shared that their veterinarians discussed their pet’s weight with them, an increase from 46% in 2021. According to APOP, this rate has remained between 46% and 53% in past years.
When told their pet needed to lose weight by a veterinarian, just 17% of pet owners claimed to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, compared to 67% who reported no such feelings. This demonstrates that owners are more interested in learning about their pet’s weight and body condition, which may point to increased interest in pet nutrition, according to APOP.
Regarding addressing their pet’s body condition and weight, 73% of total dog parents and 58% of total cat parents shared they have tried to help their pet lose weight. Interestingly, dog owners reported more success compared to cat owners.
Among the various causes of pet obesity, APOP’s data revealed that many pet owners attribute obesity to overfeeding and poor feeding choices, as well as inadequate exercise and human willpower. Seventy-three percent of pet parents agreed that obesity was a result of overfeeding their pets and 70% agreed that poor diet choices caused obesity. Sixty-eight percent agreed that pet obesity was caused by not enough exercise and 62% agreed that overfeeding or giving pets excess treats caused by a lack of human willpower led to pet obesity.
Most pet parents blame themselves for their pet’s overweight or obese body condition, according to data from APOP. Sixty-two percent “agreed or somewhat agreed” that they are to blame, whereas only 15% disagreed. Additionally, 52% of total pet owners shared that they were responsible for their pet’s current body condition, demonstrating the increasing demand for nutritional solutions that address pet weight.
Taking a therapeutic approach
With the current situation in mind, many pet food manufacturers have turned to therapeutic diets to help pet parents trim the fat and reduce the rate of pet obesity. However, the actual usage of therapeutic diets (or prescription diets) remains low. In 2018, 19% of pet parents reported using a therapeutic weight loss diet to help address their pet’s weight; this number has remained relatively steady for 2022.
Eleven percent of dog parents reported using a therapeutic or prescription diet, whereas 23% of cat parents reported the same.
The most popular methods for addressing weight loss in dogs includes:
- Reducing calories or feeding smaller portions (54%)
- Stopping or reducing the amount of treats (54%)
- Measuring/weighing the amount of food (47%)
- Increasing exercise (34%)
- Switching to low calorie treats (20%)
- Switching to low calorie/fat food (19%)
- Using a prescription/therapeutic diet (11%)
- Correcting an underlying medical problem (8%)
- Switching to wet or fresh food (1%)
The most popular methods for addressing weight loss in cats includes:
- Reducing calories or feeding smaller portions (56%)
- Measuring/weighing the amount of food (47%)
- Increasing exercise (30%)
- Stopping or reducing the amount of treats (28%)
- Switching to wet or fresh food (24%)
- Using a prescription/therapeutic diet (23%)
- Switching to low calorie/fat food (18%)
- Correcting an underlying medical problem (2%)
According to APOP, the fact that only one in five owners have tried such diets despite these being the “primary evidence-based treatment” for veterinarians reveals a large gap in education and compliance. Additionally, barriers to leveraging these diets include their perceived high price tags, hesitancy to switch diets, and a lack of results.
Despite the barriers for pet owners regarding such therapeutic diets, APOP highlighted the importance of changing a pet’s diet, alongside their overall lifestyle, to address pet obesity. The association is seeking to partner with pet food processors to help promote science-based weight loss formulas and refine the education around such formulas to hopefully increase pet owner compliance.
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