Are We Feeding Our Pets to Death?


Look, I love dogs and cats as much as the next guy — probably more, unless he also spends a good chunk of his day watching videos of Corgis on YouTube. But I have to marvel at the inflammatory tone of CNN's report on the U.S. pet obesity epidemic. (Be advised: this story contains sad references to pets dying young and adorable photos of Garfield-sized kitties.) The lede alone is journalistic perfection.

Kim Stevens has a problem that affects tens of millions of Americans. If left untreated, it could lead to the death of someone she loves, someone who's part of the family.

Stevens' dog Dodger, a black and gray mixed breed, is obese. According to a new study, he's emblematic of a growing problem.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats are considered overweight or obese by veterinarian standards. For me, the real shocker is that cats are only a little fatter on average than dogs. Have you ever seen a cat exercise past some light stretching?

The problem, as you might have guessed, is diet and a sedentary lifestyle. (Pugs can barely breathe when they're sitting, and now you expect them to run laps?) But dog and cat obesity, however adorable, can cause serious complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention founder Ernie Ward warns that pets with these problems can have their lives shortened by as much as two-and-a-half years.

But another explanation for the epidemic is the way we treat our fat pets: instead of rubbing their sweet little tummies, we should apparently be helping them shed the pounds. We don't even have a sense of what it means for a dog or cat to be overweight — at least, that's what pet owners claim. Personally I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were lying for the sake of preserving that precious belly waddle.

A central part of the problem, the pet obesity group found, is the growing "fat pet gap:" More and more owners are unaware their pets are overweight. The study found that 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners characterized their pets as normal weight when the animals were actually overweight or obese.

The story continues with a couple inspirational stories of dogs who have managed to get on the right track. Hey, if I had an underwater treadmill like Raleigh, I'd be more motivated to lose weight, too. But if the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention really wants to get pet owners on board, I suggest a Biggest Loser-esque competition. There is no greater incentive than the promise of fleeting reality TV fame.

[Image via Shutterstock]