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Environmental and Medical Causes for Pet Obesity

Reviewing some of the major reasons for pet obesity on National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is a project of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a coalition of veterinarians, veterinary schools, and veterinary organizations. APOP runs an annual survey on pet obesity in the U.S. Their most recent survey was completed in 2015 and found a continuing rise in obesity among dogs and cats.

About 54% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Broken down further, approximately 26 million dogs are estimated to be overweight and 42 million are obese.

Obesity can put pets at greater risk for several medical conditions including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease and Hypertension
  • Endocrine Disease
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Physical Injuries (i.e. Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury)
  • Kidney Disease
  • Genitourinary Disorders (which affects the urethral sphincter and bladder control)
  • Cancer
  • Reduced lifespan

What are some of the reasons for pet obesity? Obviously, overfeeding and lack of exercise are contributing factors. However, there are additional causes not related to environmental factors related to their care by their owners. Several breeds have a genetic disposition to obesity. Some of these include Basset Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Beagles, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and Shetland Sheepdogs.

The age of a dog is also a factor. Just as we see in humans, the older we get, the harder it is for us to keep off extra pounds due to metabolic changes in our bodies. If a dog's exercise level goes down and food consumption remains the same, they can easily become overweight.

Neutering can also lead to obesity as the changes in a dog's sex hormones affects metabolism. For example, one study of female spayed Beagles found their energy needs were 20% lower after their spay surgery. Owners of fixed dogs should be sure to monitor their pet's food intake to take this possibility into account.

Pharmaceuticals can also increase weight. For example, a known symptom for dogs on the anticonvulsant Phenobarbital is weight gain.

Nutrition also plays a role in obesity. Obviously, dogs that are fed too much, including extra treats, without paying attention to a dog's weight, leads to a fatter dog. Research has found as well that overweight dogs were more likely to be fed a higher amount of cheaper brands of pet food, which may not be as nutritionally adequate as premium foods. Studies have also found dogs owned by elderly owners are more likely to be overweight which may be because elderly owners may have poorer nutrition habits of their own.

Obese dogs have also been found to be twice as likely to have an owner who is obese as well. Studies have also found obese owners tend to underestimate their dog's weight. The lack of physical activity by the owner leads to less exercise for the dogs, and likewise the lack of understanding their dog is fat leads to less control over their food consumption.

Obesity is generally not often a concern among active dogs who participate in dogs sports such as agility. However, owners should always keep an eye on their dog's weight as underlying medical conditions can produce unintentional weight gain. Because of the propensity of obesity among dogs, canine sports enthusiasts can provide good role models for owners on providing exercise outlets for dogs (and for themselves!)

Sources: Association for Pet Obesity PreventionObesity in dogs, Part 1: Exploring the causes and consequences of canine o


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