According to the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey (released in 2015), an estimated 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats are obese or overweight in the US—which equates to 43.8 million dogs and 55 million cats (see Figure 1). Of these animals, 17.6% of dogs (13.9 million) and 28.1% of cats (26.2 million) are obese. As pet humanization settles in as a given trend, these numbers are no surprise, as according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third (36.5%) of adult Americans are obese.
FIGURE 1: The majority of both cats and dogs in the US are overweight or obese, according to the most recent study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. This provides both challenges and opportunities for pet food formulators looking for ways to fill the health segment of specialty pet food.
Pet obesity is of increasing importance to pet owners and veterinarians, but also to the pet food industry, which is often the “go-to” for specialty pet health management—particularly those conditions with a specific link to diet. And as it doesn’t seem to be a decreasing issue—in fact, according to a study from Nationwide, an insurance company that provides pet insurance, as of 2016 pet obesity is on the rise for the fifth straight year—it’s important for the pet food industry to provide options for consumers looking to provide the best nutrition and weight loss solutions for their pets.
Obesity-related challenges addressed by the pet food industry
Overweight pets are prone to many health conditions (see Table 1), several of which the specialty pet food industry is addressing with specific formulas. Arthritis, bladder and urinary tract health, kidney health and liver health are all issues exacerbated by obesity that have help on pet food shelves.
TABLE 1: Many pet health ailments can stem from obesity, leading to a need for specialty formulas addressing these concerns.
Diamond Pet Foods, for example, offers a CARE line of specialized pet foods formulated for, among other things, adult cat and dog weight management. The line also includes an Rx renal formula for adult dogs, available through veterinary clinics by prescription.
Blue Buffalo offers a veterinary line including a kidney support formula for dogs and a kidney+mobility formula for cats. Both products feature controlled protein, phosphorus and sodium levels, and are complete and balanced diets, according to the company.
Royal Canin offers a line of veterinary-exclusive therapeutic and wellness formulas covering a host of health-related issues, including weight control. Each formula is designed to help promote wellness, minimize clinical symptoms or promote recovery.
Consumer awareness and desire for pet food solutions
Fortunately, consumers are becoming increasingly educated and aware of their pets’ health, including obesity. In a February/March 2016 Packaged Facts survey, 25% of US dog owners and 24% of cat owners said they have an overweight pet (see Figure 2). While those percentages are up from 2015 numbers, they’re still not anywhere near the reality of pet obesity. Still, when asked if they buy pet food or nutrition products related to weight or obesity for their pets, 52% of dog owners and 44% of cat owners surveyed said they do (see Table 2). These percentages, too, are significantly higher than in previous years, and show an overall increased awareness of the issue of pet obesity.
FIGURE 2: Pet owners are increasingly aware of their pets’ health, leading to continued growth in those owners searching for solutions on pet food store shelves.
TABLE 2: Fortunately, awareness of pet obesity is increasing, leading some consumers to focus their pet food purchasing on products relating to weight or obesity.
Along with this awareness comes, as always, the desire for solutions, which the pet food industry is determined to provide. Novel proteins are a current hot topic, and according to Mark J. Mendal, founder of Pet Proteins (who spoke at Petfood Forum 2016), they might be able to help fight the obesity epidemic. Venison, for example, has a lower calorie and fat content than conventional proteins, such as beef, which may provide some flexibility with manufacturers looking to formulate weight-control pet foods.
Beans, another ingredient getting a closer look in pet food formulation, may also be a viable weight-loss option, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Science. Veterinary scientists at Colorado State University evaluated three different dog foods, two of which contained beans (25% cooked navy bean powder in one, 25% cooked black bean powder in the other), with overweight dogs. The results showed that the dogs were able to utilize the energy stored in the bean-based diets at similar levels to the conventional kibble.
A continuing focus on industry weight-loss solutions
As pet obesity continues to rise, in spite of veterinary and pet food industry efforts to prevent it, consumers will increasingly look to their pets’ meals to mitigate the damage. That leaves specialty formulators with plenty of opportunities to provide foods that deal with weight control overall, as well as the various maladies that come with pet obesity. Whether companies choose to focus on pet store shelves or veterinary clinics, the options will be well-received by pet owners who want the best for their dogs and cats.
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