Inga Ready

Pets and Humans Learning New Health Tricks

Yesterday, we had an unusual opportunity. We spent the day with a diverse collection of animal scientists – experts in behavior, health, nutrition, and even obesity. One thing was most clear. Pets and humans are on parallel paths for health. And in fact, the parallels in human and pet obesity are quite striking.

Can We Talk?

Animal behavior experts Alexandra Horowitz and Sarah Heath told us right from the start, that we might not have a clue what our dogs and cats are really thinking and wanting. Dogs, for instance, experience the world through their noses. When they get in our face, they’re not kissing us. They’re checking out how we smell. We could go on. But let’s just say, our cats and our dogs sometimes want very different things than we do to be happy.

While we’re on the subject of talking, it turns out that vets have just as much trouble talking about obesity in the clinic as our doctors do. Alex German is a Professor of Small Animal Medicine at the University of Liverpool. He also runs a weight management clinic for dogs and cats. It turns out that obesity has been rising in dogs and cats just about as fast as it’s rising in humans. But vets have great difficulty talking about the subject.

In fact, he studied the records of more than 20,000 veterinary consultations for dogs. But he found very few mentions of obesity. In fact, vets recorded no mention of obesity for 99 percent of the dogs that actually have it. And if vets can’t talk about it, they certainly have a tough time providing help for it. Sound familiar?

A Bit of Progress

German explained that for dogs, as for humans, obesity is a chronic disease. And this year, the American Veterinary Medical Association finally recognized this fact. In addition, nine other organizations all over the world are coming to the same conclusion. Dr. Ernie Ward and the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention have played a key role.

Reviewing data from Klimentidis et al, ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle explained that obesity appears to be rising in many species. Pets, lab animals, and even wild rodents are all gaining weight. So if obesity is a character flaw, then we are surrounded by animals that are suddenly suffering from a lack of discipline.

Perhaps humans can learn something from animals about the rising rates of obesity all around us. But we rather doubt that a soda tax will our animal friends lose some weight.

Click here for German’s slides and here for Kyle’s. For a video stream of the event, click here. And finally, for insight on how activity trackers are helping vets understand the health of dogs, click here. And kudos to Royal Canin for organizing such a fascinating forum.

Inga Ready, photograph © Ted Kyle / flickr

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October 25, 2018

3 Responses to “Pets and Humans Learning New Health Tricks”

  1. October 26, 2018 at 2:54 pm, John DiTraglia said:

    Ted, your most interesting slide to me was that in 1960 60% of women and 50% of men had BMI<25 and now it's about 30% and 25% respectively. What's that say about the validity of BMI if the sexes are different?

  2. October 26, 2018 at 3:10 pm, Ted said:

    Honestly, John, I’m not sure that this speaks to the validity of BMI. Reams of other publications are devoted to that subject. It’s a construct that’s both useful and quite imperfect.

  3. October 27, 2018 at 5:50 pm, David Brown said:

    The fact that both humans and animals of many sorts are experiencing the same obesity trend suggests that changes in the food and feed supply may be the root cause. The scientific evidence suggests that the most likely change has been in the essential fatty acid profile of both human and animal food; too much linoleic acid in plant foods and arachidonic acid in animal products. https://openheart.bmj.com/content/3/2/e000385