Data-driven Pet Solutions: Addressing the Pet Obesity Epidemic
Banfield Pet Hospital's latest report shows pet obesity became a weightier issue over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimating more than 11 million households welcomed a new pet last year, the veterinary profession faced complex challenges in 2020: adjusting to new pandemic processes and guidelines while simultaneously meeting the surging demand for pet care services. With families spending more quality time at home with their cats and dogs than ever before, we also saw a shift in how people were approaching pet ownership.
A Much Weightier Issue than Just the “COVID 15”
The human-animal bond has never been stronger. This has led to national discussions about the potential longer-term impacts quarantine might have on our pets – from worries of separation anxiety to noticing extra pounds on cats and dogs. A new report based on data from Banfield Pet Hospital’s electronic veterinary health records system confirms suspicions of weightier pets over the past year. When looking at data from March 2020 to December 2020, dogs diagnosed as overweight or obese rose 2.3%, the largest increase in overweight/obese canines seen at Banfield in the past 10 years.
A wider look at our data shines a spotlight on an even more concerning reality that many of us in the profession have been trying to tackle for years: diagnoses of overweight and obesity in cats and dogs have been occurring in epidemic proportions since long before the pandemic. Analyzing the health records of millions of pets seen at our practice each year, over the past decade Banfield saw a 108% increase in the percentage of dogs diagnosed as overweight or obese, jumping from 16% in 2011 to 34% in 2020. The increase seen in cats was even greater: 114%, jumping from 18% in 2011 to 38% in 2020.
It’s More than Just Extra Pounds
A previous study published by the Waltham Petcare Science Institute – the fundamental science center for Mars Petcare – using Banfield data demonstrated significant differences in lifespan between dogs of normal weight and overweight dogs. Overweight dogs had a shorter lifespan in all breeds studied. The difference varied between breeds and ranged between five months and two years.
In addition to reducing lifespan, we know that dogs and cats diagnosed as overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from other serious conditions, particularly skin infections and respiratory conditions. Not surprisingly, overweight dogs were over 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with orthopedic conditions. According to Banfield’s 2021 Veterinary Emerging Topics (VET)™ Report, more than 150,000 dogs every year are diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), with weight being a key factor.
Better Understanding Barriers for Pet Owners
With the problem of overweight and obesity only continuing to rise, we, as a profession, need to continue to try new ways to have productive discussions with owners when their pet’s weight is a concern, while establishing the strong partnerships that create effective solutions. We know that there are a number of factors contributing to pets being overweight and their success in losing it, and they aren’t the same for every pet, so creating a personalized approach is key.
Banfield surveyed 1,000 U.S. owners with pets that have been diagnosed by a veterinarian as, or who consider their pets to be, overweight or obese. Concerningly, 93% of respondents said they have faced hurdles in maintaining a healthy weight for their pet, including:
- Giving in when pets beg for food or treats (46%)
- Not knowing the best strategies for weight loss (30%)
- Trouble exercising their pet due to their own health or mobility issues (29%) and not having enough time for exercise (26%)
- Not paying enough attention to their pet’s diet (23%)
Insights from Mars Petcare and Royal Canin Experts
We as a profession have an opportunity to continue to raise awareness about this serious issue impacting the growing number of pets in the U.S. By leveraging data, we can provide more helpful and personalized solutions for pets and their owners. It’s about helping people understand that even small adjustments at home can have long-term impacts on their pet’s health and happiness – and we as veterinary professionals are here to support them along the way.