It might seem logical that the states with the highest prevalence ofoverweight people would have the highest percentages of hefty pets. Surely allthose fit Coloradans with their outdoorsy lifestyles have slim dogs, right?

Not according to a new report based on the physiques of more than 2.5 milliondogs and 500,000 cats in the United States. In some cases, it found nearly theopposite patterns for people and pets: Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi —which have some of the nation’s highest rates of human obesity, according tothe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — all ranked in the bottom fivestates for overweight or obese pets. Dogs and cats in Colorado were in the top20.

Topping the list for both chunky dogs and fat cats: Minnesota, where 41percent of pooches and 46 percent of kitties were rated by veterinarians asoverweight or obese. In second place for both species was Nebraska, where thefigures were 39 percent for dogs and 43 percent for cats.

The animals were all seen in 2016 at one of the 975 veterinary hospitals runby Banfield, a chain that operates in 42 states, the District of Columbia andPuerto Rico. Overall, 1 in 3 of those dogs and cats were overweight or obese,according to a five-point body conditioning score the hospitals’ veterinariansassign to animals after a visual and physical examination. They want to beable to see pets’ waistlines and feel their ribs (but not see them, becausethat would mean a dog or cat is too thin).

The folks at Banfield were surprised to find that pet and people weightproblems don’t correlate by state, said Kirk Breuninger, a veterinarian who’son the Banfield research team. But while regional trends and people-petrelationships are murky, the overall picture when it comes to pet heft is not.Lots of American dogs and cats are far too heavy, and as a group they’regetting heavier all the time. Banfield says it has tracked a 158 percentincrease in overweight dogs over the past 10 years. The prevalence ofoverweight cats has shot up 169 percent.

And it’s worth noting that Banfield’s numbers are actually lower than othercommonly cited figures from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).According to that organization, which relied on a far smaller sample size, astunning 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats were overweight or obese in2016.

AnchorExpertscite multiple reasons our furry friends are swelling in size. More than ever,pets are treated as family members, and Breuninger said owners often “showlove” to them with table scraps, treats and extra scoops of kibble. There’salso been what he called a “normalization” of bigger-than-ideal bodies. A 2015study, for example, found that 1 in 4 dogs that placed in the top five oftheir class in Britain’s renowned Crufts dog show — where contestants arejudged on how close they are to a perfect example of their breed — was tooheavy.

“Many pet owners don’t quite understand that their pet is overweight,”Breuninger said.

Other factors might also be in play, including genetics. Last year,researchers identified a variation in a gene in Labrador retrievers, whichtend to pack on pounds, that drives overeating; whether it’s present in otherbreeds is not yet known — and even if it is, Breuninger said, it wouldn’t giveowners an excuse not to manage a pet’s weight.

There’s also ample confusion among owners about what to feed their pets: Grainfree? Organic? Raw meat? There’s no right answer for every animal, saidBreuninger, who advised people check with a vet. (Vets, according to the APOPsurvey, aren’t generally as hot on low-grain, raw or organic diets as theirpet owners are).

All in all, if you’ve got a fat pet and want to fix that, the answer in mostcases will sound pretty familiar: diet and exercise. A vet can advise on thequantity and type of food, Breuninger said, but the exercise part will be upto you and your fur baby. That includes indoor cats, who aren’t so easy totake to the dog park. Laser pointers, feather toys and food puzzles — whichmake cats work for their food — can be helpful weight-loss tools, he said.

“The truth is that very small changes in activity levels for cats can lead tolong-term changes in their health and weight,” Breuninger said. “Even playingwith them 10 minutes a day … can really have long-term impacts.”

Need more motivation? Do it for your loyal friend’s health — and for yourwallet. More than 20 common pet diseases, including diabetes and arthritis,are linked to obesity. Banfield says owners of its overweight dog patientsspent 17 percent more on health-care costs and 25 percent more on medicationsat its practices, while owners of pudgy cats spent 36 percent more ondiagnostic tests.

Source: Washington Post

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