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Obesity in Pets

Important Info for Pet Retailers


Obesity in Pets

Prince Chunk, the late New Jersey cat who reportedly tipped the scales at 44 pounds, became the poster boy for the perils of pet obesity.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Like obesity in people, the number of portly pets has reached epidemic proportions in Western society, especially in America.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55 percent of dogs and 54 percent of cats in the U.S. range from moderately plump to just plain fat!

This can lead to a host of residual health issues in pets including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Joint issues, and more.

Not surprisingly, pet parents are increasingly seeking remedies to help their pets battle the bulge. Here are some important tips for pet retailers.

Be Aware of the Reasons for Pet Obesity

As I have mentioned many times before, people now consider their pets valued members of their families. As such, many folks now readily anthropomorphize their pets; we ascribe human characteristics to them. As a result, our pets' overall existences now mirror those of humans, for better and worse, including when it comes to engaging in dietary and general lifestyle habits that cause them to pack on the excess pounds.

I asked Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, About.com Guide to Veterinary Medicine for some further insight.

"I think there are many reasons for the rise in pet obesity," she said. "More sedentary/busy lifestyles of people mean less walks and time playing and exercising the pets. There are a plethora of pet treats on the market; many of them are high calorie, just like human treats. Treats are now given as gifts from other pet lovers, and businesses are also handing out pet treats (drive-through banks, pharmacies, et cetera). And pets are living longer, which means more time to pack on the pounds."

I also spoke with Ron Castonguay, marketing rep for Ohio-based Stewart pet food, which has been producing freeze-dried raw and other natural pet foods and treats for 40 years, who echoed Dr. Janet's sentiments.

FYI: Stewart won the Best Natural Pet Food category honors for the 2013 Pets Shops Reader's Choice Awards.

"There are now more empty nesters and single, childless people who are turning their pets into their children," he pointed out. "There are also a lot of 'latchkey' dogs these days. People are busier than they were 40 years ago and they don’t have time to exercise their dogs. The days when dogs would run around in the yard are over. They are sitting on the couch eating chips along with their people."

The folks at Stewart have wisely embarked on a marketing campaign to position the company in ways that address and offer solutions for the pet obesity issue. Smart, forward-thinking pet retailers would do well to follow suit.

How Retailers Can Help Combat Pet Obesity

First, it's always important to do your pet food homework, as many pet parents will rely on your expertise in regard to combatting not only pet obesity, but other pet health and nutritional issues, as well.

Know what's in the pet foods you carry by reading the labels and asking lots of questions about their ingredients and manufacturing processes.

"Read the labels first," Castonguay advised. "The less the food is processed, the more nutrients it maintains. For us, it's about avoiding fillers. The better quality the ingredients, the more likely the foods will help pets to maintain a proper weight. Avoid pet foods with preservatives, additives and colors. People should also stay away from feeding their pets human junk foods and treats, such as French fries and cheeseburgers. All of our raw frozen food is human grade. This is what retailers should also look for."

It's equally important to know the specific nutritional needs of your particular pet clients.

Cats, for example, are obligate carnivores that require diets that are high in meat protein and low in carbohydrates. So they tend to fare best when fed grain-free foods, which have become extremely popular within the pet food market.

"High protein foods also help with weight management in dogs," Castonguay added. "Many dry and canned pet foods have a lot of carbohydrates and calories and a lot of canned foods are high in fat. Unless you have an active pet, these will contribute to weight gain."

Capitalizing on the Pet Exercise Market

As both Dr. Janet and Castonguay pointed out, poor pet food choices and dietary habits aren’t the only factors that contribute to pet obesity. A sedentary lifestyle is also to blame.

So this is a great opportunity for pet retailers to showcase toys and pet exercise devices.

Indeed, an entire pet exercise market has begun to spring up to address pet obesity. According to the American Pet Products Association, dog treadmills such as the dogPacer (the brand endorsed by Uggie the doggie movie star) are now huge sellers.

Many people who offer pet services, such as pet sitters, doggie daycare operators and upscale pet spas and lodgings, are adding these to their operations.

Interactive toys that get pets moving, such as wand toys for cats, are also great items to carry for this purpose.

So there is a very strong symbiotic relationship between diet and exercise for pets, just as with people.

"Many people want a 'diet food' for their pet, but one to three walks a day will do wonders," Dr. Janet said.

"A lot of it is just plain common sense," Castonguay added. "What makes you fat will make your dog fat!"

For some ideas about the best pet foods to carry to help with pet obesity issues, please see my articles:

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