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Know Your Enemy — the American Pet Obesity Epidemic

Know Your Enemy — the American Pet Obesity Epidemic

According to a recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 53% of cats and 55% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese.  (That’s about 93 million cats and dogs, for those of you keeping score at home.)  In other words, if you randomly pick a dog or cat on an American street, chances are that it is overweight or obese.

Are you terrified by that statistic? You should be.  If you love your pet, then the American Pet Obesity Epidemic (the “APOE”) should scare the daylights out of you.  Why? Because hundreds of dogs and cats die every single day from obesity-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Moreover, and intuitively enough, obesity has also been linked to crippling musculoskeletal conditions, such as ligament injuries and arthritis.

In other words, if you care about the longevity, mobility, or happiness of your pet, you should be paying attention to this issue.  It’s that simple.

Now, the first step to solving a problem is understanding the nature of the problem.  Particularly, to understand how to overcome the APOE, we need to understand why it is occurring.  Just why have our pets gotten so fat? If we can understand the causes of the crisis, then we can work towards identifying appropriate solutions.  So let’s consider four contributing factors, in no particular order:

  • Lack of activity among pet owners.  For me, this is the most obvious contributor. To some degree, we all impose our lifestyles upon the pets over whom we exert any modicum of control.  And, notwithstanding Michelle Obama’s best efforts, it is well documented that we’re becoming an increasingly sedentary culture.  As we go (or don’t go, as the case too often is), so go our pets.
  • Lack of powerful irrational motivations.  This idea is a bit harder to express.  Basically, what I mean to say is that our cultural obsession with youthful, skinny, and fit bodies causes us all (for better or for worse) to dwell upon the condition of our own bodies.  Even if celebrity-worship isn’t necessarily a “good reason” to keep yourself fit, in many cases the healthful ends justify the unhealthy means.  Just imagine how severe the American Human Obesity Epidemic would be if we weren’t all sex-obsessed and vain, and if our only motivation for keeping fit was (gasp!) our own long-term health.  Well, that’s precisely the mentality with which we approach pet health and fitness issues.  Unlike our human partners, we don’t really find our pets any less irresistible simply because they’re carrying some extra fat. If nothing else, irrational motivations for keeping fit–”this is how society wants me to look”–are far less powerful with respect to our pets than with respect to ourselves.  Thus, because our only real motivations to keep our pets fit are rational, long-term health concerns, we are less likely to obsess over pet fitness than human fitness.
  • Urban Living Conditions.  Exercising a dog can be time-consuming, expensive, and just plain difficult when one lives in a high-rise apartment building.  Without a yard in which to romp, doggie exercise usually takes the form of a leashed-up walk or a visit to a local dog park or dog daycare center.  Neither of these options is as quick and easy as a backyard play session.  So, as people migrate away from the suburbs and into cities, our pets get less and less exercise.
  • Overfeeding. Not unlike their owners, dogs don’t stop eating simply because they feel full.  This, to a large extent, is because mammals experience a lag period between the point at which the gut is filled and the point at which the brain triggers the feeling of satiation.  So, dogs usually wind up “wolfing” their food down before their brains even have a chance to tell them that they’ve had enough.  This is not necessarily a problem, because we, as pet owners, are supposed to take responsibility for feeding our pets the proper amount.  But, in practice, it is a problem, either because we are uneducated about the proper amount to feed our pets or undisciplined in our feeding habits.  Either way, the results are the same: obese and overweight pets.

What say you, Varsity Team?  Why have our pets gotten so fat?  What are the societal causes of the APOE?

 

2 Comments

  1. Stacy Mastro says:

    How about the quality of food? The rice and corn? Are we carb-loading our pups?

    • Coach Dan says:

      Two fundamental variables affect the degree to which diet contributes to obesity: quality of food and quantity of food. With respect to quality, the essential task is to feed your dog foods that meet its nutritional needs without leading to the creation and retention of excess body fat. While experts disagree as to many of the details inherent to this task, there is one simple equation that we’re all already familiar with that is a useful starting point when making food-related decisions aimed at helping your dog lose weight: calories in < calories out. Foods packed with cereal grains, rice, and corn are particularly calorie-dense. So feeding a diet rich in these ingredients is likely to provide your dog with more calories than it requires. In other words, unless you have conducted a detailed analysis of your dog's daily caloric output and your are feeding portions that do not exceed those energy needs, you are very likely to be over-feeding your dog if you are feeding foods rich in corn, rice, and wheat. For more useful information, check out this website: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/

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