Why Do Our Pets Seem to Be Growing Larger with Us?

Today is World Pet Obesity Awareness Day. So what can we make of the observation that our pets seem to be growing larger with us? We have the privilege of knowing two persons who have put much thought into this subject. So today, we will borrow on their insights.

Chihuahua in the Coalmine

Ernie Ward is the veterinarian who founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. He is in his second decade of raising concern for health and quality of life of our pets. He believes the increased prevalence of pet obesity comes from more than just feeding and exercise patterns:

“I continue to believe there’s definitely potential shared risk between us and our animal companions. ‘Chihuahua in a Coalmine,’ I used to say.

“The larger issue to me is the ongoing need to investigate and question shared environmental risks along with desired domestication genetic traits such as food drive (linked to trainability). Obesity in animals, as in humans, is so much more than too much food, and too little exercise.”

Support and Meaningful Care

Alexander German is a professor of small animal medicine at the University of Liverpool. He knows as much about obesity in our animal companions as anyone in the world. He also appreciates how much we have to learn:

“As with humans, we know very little about the causes of obesity in our pets and, as in humans, there will be many factors involved. There are many parallels between obesity in pets and humans, not least in terms of causes and consequences, but also the problems in providing effective obesity care and the impact of weight bias.

“Owner perceptions of obesity can vary markedly, not least in terms of their ability to control their dog’s food intake and address obesity when present (Lloyd et al 2023). Such owners describe facing an ongoing struggle in managing their pet’s weight, and holding feelings of futility when their attempts fail. Not uncommonly, the response of others is stigma and blame rather than support.

“On this important day in the veterinary calendar, I hope for improved awareness of the impact weight stigma has on owners caring for pets with obesity. Veterinary professionals, in particular, need to make more effort to have supportive conversations with owners about pet obesity, avoiding blame whilst committing to providing meaningful obesity care.”

Curiosity and Care

More than a decade has passed since David Allison and colleagues told us obesity seems to be rising across many species. It is clear that more than feeding and physical activity is involved in these parallel obesity trends.

Less clear is our curiosity to seek a deeper understanding of its causes and our commitment to providing better care for the problems obesity brings. We hope for more.

Click here for more on World Pet Obesity Day, here for more on weight bias in veterinary medicine, and here for more on the need for veterinarians to address obesity in our companion animals.

Watson, photograph by Steven Kyle / ConscienHealth

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October 11, 2023

6 Responses to “Why Do Our Pets Seem to Be Growing Larger with Us?”

  1. October 11, 2023 at 6:52 am, Al Lewis said:

    Cats are carnivores and dogs are (mostly) carnivores. Yet pet food can contain up to 30% starches.

  2. October 11, 2023 at 10:32 am, John DiTraglia said:

    – pet obesity, avoiding blame whilst committing to providing meaningful obesity care.”
    if obesity is hard to combat in dogs then they’re like us. if it’s easier without making a miserable dog then they might have some secret to offer.
    for example a high fat diet in mice and rats with constant calorie counts causes obesity but not in humans.
    David Allison’s reports are even more intriguing.

  3. October 11, 2023 at 5:36 pm, Richard Atkinson said:

    Multiple animal species have been shown to be infected naturally with adenovirus 36 and experimental infection of chickens, mice, rats, and monkeys causes obesity. 30% to 50% of humans have been infected worldwide. Is an infectious etiology of obesity too scary to contemplate?

    • October 12, 2023 at 3:18 am, Ted said:

      The good food / bad food sermons are easier to preach.

  4. October 12, 2023 at 12:24 pm, G said:

    I have 2 cats. They’re in the same home with the same food. Both are well into adulthood. One is so chunky I wonder if she has a sluggish thyroid. The other is thin. I’m at a loss to really explain it.

    • October 12, 2023 at 1:28 pm, Ted said:

      Individual variations in physiology. They are found in all animals. Even humans.