The overweight pet problem is getting bigger.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported Tuesday that the number of U.S. cats and dogs classified as overweight or obese inched upward to 58 and 54 percent, respectively, in 2015.
The evaluation of 1,224 veterinary patients brought calls for a better understanding of what constitutes obesity—to eliminate confusion—and for a standardized scale measuring an animal’s body condition score (BCS).
Three major BCS scales are used worldwide, said Julie Churchill, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, an associate clinical professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention board member.
“We need a single standard to ensure all veterinary health care team members are on the same page,” Dr. Churchill said.
The organization is consulting with European veterinarians to develop a global scale and has proposed numerical scores of 1 to 9.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention noted that veterinary professionals often don’t agree on definitions of overweight and obese and that pet owners see things differently, too. According to the association, clinical obesity is defined as 30 percent or more above ideal weight.
The words obese and overweight “have significant clinical meaning and affect treatment recommendations,” said board member and University of Georgia Professor Steve Budsberg, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS.
The time is right to classify pet obesity as a disease, said the organization’s founder, North Carolina practitioner Ernie Ward, DVM.
“The American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease in 2013,” Dr. Ward said. “The American Veterinary Medical Association [should] follow suit.”
“By defining obesity as a disease, many veterinarians will take the condition more seriously and be compelled to act rather than ignore this serious health threat,” he added.
Veterinarians and clients need to face the facts, said Cornell University’s Joe Barges, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVN.
“The reality is, obesity kills,” Dr. Barges said. “Numerous studies have linked obesity with type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, many forms of cancer and decreased life expectancy. Our survey validates the notion that we’re seeing more obese pets with more potential medical problems.”
The latest survey found a slight rise in pet weight issues. An assessment conducted in 2013 discovered that 57 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs were classified as overweight or obese.
Veterinarians from 136 clinics used a 1-to-5 scale in their 2015 measurements. Dogs and cats scoring a 2, for example, had an “obvious waist when viewed from above” and their ribs, spine and other bones were easily felt. A score of 5, signifying obese, revealed “large fat deposits over the chest, back, tail base and hindquarters,” among other indicators.
A separate report issued this month by the market research firm Packaged Facts suggested that dog and cat owners tend not to recognize weight issues. The report pointed to a gap “between the number of pet owners who view their pets as overweight and the much higher percentage of pets that actually are.”
While more than half of U.S. cats and dogs are overweight or obese, just 14 percent of dog owners and 12 percent of cat owners purchase foods formulated for weight management, according to Packaged Facts.