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Pets, Obesity and Diabetes: An Epidemic in 2016

Reviewed by Dr. Peter Kintzer, DVM, DACVIM on Friday, July 8, 2016
Posted July 12, 2016 in A Vet's Life

Obese lab on the floor

If you’re like me, you’ve become used to hearing about the astronomical incidence of obesity and diabetes within the United States. And, predictions of how many of our children will ultimately develop diabetes is downright scary. Given this information, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that two recent surveys demonstrate that the incidence of obesity and diabetes is also on the rise in our dogs and cats.

Obesity survey
Every year, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducts a survey that tracks the prevalence of obesity in dogs and cats. The 2015 survey, available on the APOP website, assessed 1,224 dogs and cats who received wellness examinations within 136 veterinary clinics. According to aaha.org, for every animal, a body condition score (BCS) was assessed and reported. This score was based on a five-point scale as well as the animal’s actual body weight. The animals were then classified as being ideal, underweight, overweight, or obese.

The APOP survey revealed that approximately 58% of the cats and 54% of the dogs evaluated were overweight or obese. Wow, these percentages are striking! Based on body size alone, more than half of our pets have a significant health issue!

The APOP defines obesity as an animal being 30 percent or more above ideal body weight. APOP board member, Dr. Steve Budsberg, notes that there is a lack of consensus amongst veterinarians about exactly how obesity is defined. “Our profession hasn’t agreed on what separates ‘obese’ from ‘overweight.’ These words have significant clinical meaning and affect treatment recommendations.”1

The APOP is pushing for the adoption of a universal pet BCS system. Doing so would allow veterinarians to more consistently and accurately assess their patients, report their findings, interpret veterinary research, and communicate with colleagues and clients. According to Dr. Julie Churchill, another APOP board member, “There are currently three major BCS scales used worldwide. We need a single standard to ensure all veterinary health care team members are on the same page.”1

Another APOP board member, Dr. Ernie Ward, takes this one step further. “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.”1 I couldn’t agree more. Having practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years, it’s clear to me that there is a lack of consensus amongst my colleagues about exactly how to define pet obesity and what to do about it.

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Nancy has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine as well as a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2014.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.