Treating Pets Like Family Can Cause Weight Issues

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COLUMBIA - According to the National Pet Obesity Survey, more than half of all cats and dogs are overweight or obese.

Specifically, 52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats are considered overweight or obese.  This equals roughly 36.7 million dogs and 43.2 million cats.  Columbia veterinarian Wendy Forbes said the change in weight is due largely to the change in attitude of owners.

"More and more we satisfy our need to please and enjoy our pets with food.  In turn, they end up putting on more weight," Forbes said.

Sophie Mashburn is the owner of two pugs and takes them on long walks with other dogs.  She keeps water handy on hot days because she said these dogs are her family.

"They're my babies," Mashburn said. "They're my rescues and I love them."

Luckily, Mashburn knows pugs are prone to being overweight and said she manages their diets closely.  But many pet owners just feed their animal when the rest of the family eats.  Forbes said that can be three or more times a day, plus treats.

"So now they're getting regular meals throughout the day where as in the past they might have been lucky to eat once a day," Forbes said.

Treats cause a weight problem when owners give them to animals multiple times a day.  Forbes said a treat can be the equivalent of a candy bar for people.  So while one candy bar a day isn't so bad, giving a pet four or five a day causes weight issues.

Forbes relates pet food to food for people in that consumers must read the labels.  Most pet foods are packed with protein, carbohydrates, and calories.  That means pets do not have to be fed more than a small amount a day to get their nutrients.

Animals also become lazy when they do not have to work hard for their food.  When it is just given to them, there is no chase or exercise involved.

"Your average outdoor cat eats three mice a day but he has to chase 30 mice to get those three mice," Forbes said.  "Well, all my cat has to do is walk up to his food bowl and he's got a full day's worth of calories."

There is often a disconnect between pet owners and veterinarians.  Forbes said animals should have lean bodies and you should be able to feel their shape instead of a squishy belly.  She finds that often times, pet owners think their animals are too thin when they are actually at optimum weight.

Reading labels and serving sizes carefully, exercising with pets, and keeping treats to a minimum are some of the easiest changes pet owners can make to ensure their pets remain at a healthy weight.

For more detailed numbers from the survey, go to