Pet Obesity Is on the Rise-And Not Just Because of the Pandemic-According to New Study

·4 min read
stocky English Bulldog sitting in grass
stocky English Bulldog sitting in grass

Andrei / Adobe Stock

We don't have to look very far to notice that many of our pets gained weight during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but new data from Banfield Pet Hospital show our cats and dogs have been packing on the pounds for the past decade.

From 2011 to 2020, Banfield saw a 108-percent increase in dogs diagnosed as overweight or obese. Last year, 34 percent of all examined dogs weighed too much (up from 16 percent in 2011). For cats, 2020 saw 114 percent more overweight or obese cats than in 2011-a jump from 18 percent of all cats to 38 percent.

And yes, the rate of dogs diagnosed as overweight from March to December 2020 increased, too: 2.3 percent. It's the largest increase Banfield has ever seen for that amount of time, the hospital said.

Banfield evaluated the records of "millions of pets" its veterinarians have seen over the past decade, the hospital network said in a news release. It also surveyed pet owners on what prevented them from keeping their pets' weight in check and offered some helpful tips on how to keep your dog or cat healthy. And don't worry-Daily Paws has some advice, too.

"We want pet owners to know that you are not alone in managing your pet's weight," Banfield Chief Medical Officer Molly McAllister said in the release. "You can partner with your veterinarian to determine your pet's ideal weight and the appropriate steps to take together to get there, without judgement. It's clear from the data that many pets and their owners are struggling with this issue and Banfield is here to help."

Why Are Our Pets Overweight?

So what caused so many extra pounds? Well, there are so many factors that it's hard to tell definitively, Banfield said, but the hospital did survey 1,000 U.S. pet owners to see what potentially got in the way of keeping their pets at healthy weights. Here were the results:

  • 66 percent of respondents said they eventually give in when their pet begs for treats. (We can relate.)

  • 30 percent said they don't know the best weight-loss strategies.

  • 29 percent said they have a hard time exercising because of their own health, which makes it harder to exercise their pets.

  • 26 percent said they don't have enough time to exercise their pets.

  • 23 percent said they don't pay enough attention to their pets' diets.

A few extra pounds might not seem like a bad thing, but it can worsen your pets' other health issues. According to Banfield, overweight pets are much more likely to develop skin problems, diabetes, and respiratory, urinary, and orthopedic problems.

How to Keep Your Pet at a Healthy Weight

The first thing is the easiest thing-though 41 percent of the respondents in Banfield's survey said they've avoided it. Talk with your veterinarian. They know your pets best and can come up with the best plan of action for them.

But if you want to get started before that vet visit, we have a few ideas.

  • Check to see where your pet's weight should be. Here's our guide for dogs, and here's the guide for cats.

  • Examine how much food your pets need each day, and then see how that translates to the amount of exercise they need. You can check both of those out right here and form at least the beginning of an exercise plan.

  • Change up your exercise to keep your dog interested: Walks, playtime, chase, and trips to the dog park won't seem like exercise because each one will be a new adventure. And don't be afraid to play inside, especially with a smaller dog.

Banfield suggests starting slow with your pet's exercise-the same way us humans do-and work your way up as your dog gets more comfortable. Though it can be hard, turn away from those begging eyes and stop sharing human food with your pets.

But, again, talk with your veterinarian as soon as you can. That's how we start reducing these too-high overweight pet numbers.

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