Dr. Richard French, DVM, dean of animal studies and Allerton Chair of Animal Health Sciences at Becker College, is urging pet owners to pursue healthy lifestyles in honor of May as National Pet Month. The bond between human owners and their pets may affect the health of both, he says, especially for health concerns associated with obesity.
"In the veterinary sciences field, we have observed that the epidemic of overweight humans is being mirrored in the population of pet cats and dogs," says French. "According to the US Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, obesity is just as threatening to the animals as it is to their owners."
Diseases being diagnosed in obese pets "are eerily similar to those reported for people," according to the center, citing an annual study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Obesity is a leading epidemic in the US for both humans and pets, with more than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults considered overweight or obese, and 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats considered overweight or obese by their veterinarian, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinarians say this equates to more than 100 million pets.
"Pets are family members, and we often treat them as loved ones, with all the benefits of a great home life. But our pets are, sadly, falling victim to one of the biggest health issues facing their human owners," French says.
A large part of the problem with pet obesity is the "fat pet gap," the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says, because many owners are unaware that their pets are overweight. In many cases, this correlates to obesity in people, too.
"When we see dogs that are overweight, we essentially should see a child that's at risk for excess weight," says French. "Think about the lifestyles of many of our young people, and then we can readily see how their pets are emulating those lifestyles. If a child is playing video games all day, the dog isn't outside playing. Rather, the pet is sitting at her feet or on the sofa. If the child is lying around snacking on high-calorie treats, chances are the dog is sharing in those same excess calories—and is also likely to get something from the dinner table."