Pet Food Institute

Weight Gain Impacts People and Pets, Too

If you found yourself gaining some extra weight over the past year and a half, it’s possible you aren’t alone! Experts say those long days of alternating COVID lockdowns and restrictions kept us at home could also impact our pets.

Veterinarians are reporting an increase in animal obesity. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. Vets worry that the weight gain could take a serious toll on domestic pets’ well-being and their fight to regain a healthy weight may be a struggle.

“We say “struggle” because it takes two to control your pet’s diet and wellness,” says Dr. Dwight Dorsett, a 24-year veterinarian at Nassau Pet Clinic.

“Obesity in pets is a serious condition,” he continued. “It can cause a number of issues including osteoarthritis, premature bone and joint aging, high cholesterol, respiratory dysfunction, urinary tract disease, cancer and even dermatologic conditions. So while you thought you were doing your dog a favour by giving him those extra treats, you may have exacerbated an underlying weight issue that is now harder to recover from. But it can be done and it should be acted upon sooner rather than later before the consequences are more severe.”

Experts say returning to a stable, balanced diet of age appropriate food is the first step, along with reading the labels on dog treats and not overfeeding your pet those treats. The second step is exercise.

“We recommend a wellness check-up with your veterinarian as a priority,” said Nat Davies, Director of Business Operations with the Washington, DC-based Pet Food Institute (PFI), the education arm and trade association representing 98% of pet food manufacturers. “If your dog or cat is suffering from obesity, like many pets are, the vet can help you come up with a weight loss plan. This requires careful work with a veterinarian, since it’s not always best to just reduce the amount of food you give at mealtimes.. Our message throughout North America and the Caribbean is feed and treat responsibly.”

In a PFI-sponsored lecture for vets from around the Caribbean just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Leslie Hancock-Munroe with The J.M. Smucker Co. said pet parents have to understand the signs. “It’s increasingly common for pet parents to accidentally provide too many high-calorie treats as a means of showing love for their pets, failing to recognize the signs of obesity. It’s important to explain to clients that begging is learned behavior, and not typically related to nutrition or hunger,” said the small animal nutritionist, who acknowledges the difficulty of weight loss in pets. “Veterinarians can support healthy pets by encouraging lifelong habits, such as regular exercise, responsible treating and carefully-measured meals.”

Meantime, the American Kennel Club has issued detailed guidelines about getting you and your four-legged family members up and off the couch. And the American Heart Association agrees – 150 minutes per week of walking the dog will unleash the potential of wellness in both you and those little ones you may have accidentally overfed and under-exercised. That’s 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Warnings about the unrecognized early signs of obesity-related conditions is part of an ongoing campaign to spread messages about pet wellness throughout The Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos. Find helpful tips on PFICaribbean’s Facebook page @pficaribbean and on PFI’s websites and