Karen Wedekind, PhD, a researcher in pet nutrition with
Novus Nutrition Brands, has made it a cause of sorts to educate our industry
about the importance of balanced pet diets and avoiding excesses of nutrients
such as minerals, protein and
others (download a webinar on the topic).
Whether you agree with Dr. Wedekind’s analysis, most
industry professionals would concede that many pets, especially in developed
markets, are receiving too much food overall. According to the fifth annual
survey of veterinarians by the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention
(APOP), 54% of US pets—a total of 88.4 million cats and dogs—are overweight or obese.
Even worse, these pets’ owners are ignorant or in denial about
the problem. “The most distressing finding in this year’s study was the fact
that more pet owners are unaware their pets are overweight,” says Ernie Ward,
DVM, APOP’s founder, adding that 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners
characterized their pets as normal weight when the animals are actually
overweight or obese. “This is what I refer to as the ‘fat pet gap',” he says. “In
simplest terms, we’ve made fat pets the new normal.”
Further, APOP reports,
the number of obese pets—meaning they are at least 30% above normal weight or have
a body condition score of 5—continues to grow despite 93.4% of surveyed pet
owners identifying pet obesity as a problem. In 2011, 24.5% of US cats and
21.4% of dogs were classified as obese by their veterinarians, up from 21.6%
and 20.6%, respectively, in 2010.
“No animal goes to the refrigerator or pantry and helps
themselves,” says Steve Budsberg, DVM, APOP board member and director of
clinical research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Ward agrees, characterizing pet obesity as a “people problem, not a pet
Another APOP board member, Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, of the
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, adds that a major
challenge is convincing pet owners of what overweight and obesity mean and look
like in pets. “Veterinary health teams must educate owners and work with them
to prevent and treat obesity.”
Therein might lie part of the problem, especially for cats. Only
49% of surveyed cat owners said their veterinarians had discussed obesity and
excess weight with them, compared to 72% of dog owners, APOP reports, and only
46% of cat owners stated their veterinarians had reviewed nutrition or food
choices, compared to 86% of dog owners. (I can verify that: Though my
veterinary clinic is generally top-notch, I have received little useful advice on
slimming down my overweight cat; I usually have to broach the topic.)
Where does our
industry fit in? I think it could help with pet owner and veterinarian education,
starting with including calorie content information on petfood labels, websites
and other information sources. The Association of American Feed Control
Officials is moving closer to mandating that the information appear on packaging
and may be voting on the matter at its annual meeting in August.
Also, providing clear feeding directions and amounts that
pet owners can easily understand and use would help, as would including a cup
or scoop marked with measurements. Research has shown that the size of dog food
bowls and scoops has an effect on how much owners feed and overfeed.
I don’t believe petfood manufacturers are any more
responsible for pet obesity than human food manufacturers are for obesity in
people. I do believe both types of manufacturers can play a role in solving the
obesity problem by being transparent about what exactly is in their products—including
the amount of calories and levels of nutrients—and helping consumers make
Read about the AAFCO calorie statement amendment at www.petfoodindustry.com/45696.html.
1,500 products, 50 brands rated in survey
At its annual meeting, AAFCO addressed ingredient definitions, petfood safety matters and certified organic petfoods
Association committed to protecting South African pet owners from 'rogue petfood manufacturers'
What is this quiet, unassuming ingredient, and should it be there?
It's an "Intel inside" type of molecule -- but also a problem child
The question is whether they provide additional benefit to the dog or cat
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