Get The Facts On Pet Obesity: The Silent Killer

Get The Facts On Pet Obesity: The Silent Killer
By Kasra Farsad, Chief Food Scientist, PetMio, Inc.; Steve O. Hernandez, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer, PetMio, Inc.
The Price of Pet Obesity: Suffering in Later Years
Our pets trust us to know what’s best for them.  Sadly most pet parents have to rely on the unclear pet food label to decide what and how much to feed their pets.  Then there’s the question of whether or not the ingredients are even right for the unique dog or cat.
So it’s no surprise that the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention recently reported that the pet obesity epidemic continues to grow. It now affects more than 92.4 million dogs and cats in the United States [3].  
Pet obesity not only steals years off your pet’s life. Excessive weight gain also increases the likelihood of disease, ailments, as well as pain and suffering in their later years.
A Hard Look at Pet Food Quality and Content
If you’re concerned that the quality and content of your pet’s food is affecting the long-term health of your cat or dog, you’re not alone.  The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that 55% of pet parents and veterinarians worry about it too [3].
One of the leading causes of the obesity problem is the mismatch between how much food we feed our pets and how much food they actually need [1]. Similar to people, our pet’s daily intake of calories should be related to their lifestyle. This includes how many calories they burn and their overall health.  
If calorie intake and burn don’t add up,  your pet could show weight gain, weight loss, or other health complications. Very bad news for our pets.
Other factors that contribute to the increasing obesity trend are:
  • The changes and decline of your pet’s metabolism as they age without the needed changes in diet or activity [1];
  • The low nutrient density foods that are sold today; (in other words, the calories they are eating aren’t rich with vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy) [1];
  • The low bioavailability of mass-produced pet food due to the use of low quality ingredients and by-products; (think: digestibility – can they even process what they are being fed?) [4];
  • Other pet specific characteristics, such as gender and breed, that are not acknowledged by pet food labels [1];
  • Unclear marketing terms and phrases used to describe pet food and its ingredients (like “chicken meal”) [5].
Feeding Them Right: Not for the Faint of Heart
Unfortunately, the responsibility falls on pet parents to feed their pet right.  This includes sifting through all the data, understanding confusing product labels, and properly assessing their pet’s nutritional needs.  This is no easy feat.  
Management of your pet’s diet and lifestyle is even challenging for your vet.  
There are so many factors related to your pet’s health. It’s easy to see how it’s not necessarily your fault if something goes wrong.  For instance, the pet food industry would have you believe that you have to give your pets treats. However, over-pampering and excessive treat giving diminishes your to properly manage your pet’s health.
“For the majority of pets who eat too much, its not a eating disorder as much as a feeding disorder.  Owners assume that if their dog is begging, it means he’s hungry.” – Dr. Julie Chuchill, Diplomate ACVN, Associate Clinical Professor, University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center [6]
Giving treats to your pet also contributes to pet obesity. It is should be unnecessary, however. The food we feed our pets is supposed to account for 100% of their daily nutritional needs. Yet the industry makes treat giving seem almost essential to your pet’s daily needs.  
Unless your pet was much more active and did more than his normal activities, which may require extra calories, that treat may actually harm to your pet’s wellness.
Other Factors You’re Up Against
Successful weight management for pets incorporate diet, exercise, and an understanding of human-animal interaction [2].  There are a few norms in the industry working against you feeding your pet the right food in the right amounts:
  • Over-commercialized food
  • A “one formula fits all” approach to nutrition and caloric needs
  • A ‘scoop’ based measuring device serving bulk kibble
These factors have resulted in a trend of overfeeding and poor transparency what is fed to your pet. It also makes it difficult to understand the negative health trends given the lack of precise feeding.
Proper nutrition management are possible when diets are tailored to meet the needs of each individual pet, parent, and environment [2].  However, the way the pet food industry operates makes it practically impossible to fight for your pet’s quality of life.   
The resources available to pet parents is scarce, severely limiting pet parents’ abilities to truly care for their pets health.
“One of the largest barriers to successful weight management is the ability to assess your pet’s needs based on their age, breed, activity level, and other health indicators. To then extrapolate their caloric expenditure and provide them the proper amount of food to satisfy their caloric needs is nearly impossible for a pet parent to do on a regular basis at home.” – Dr. Arlianne Velez, Chief Veterinarian, PetMio, Inc.
The most recent innovations in the pet space are helping give pet parents insight into their pet’s behavior, but fall short what to do with the information.  A miscalculation of feeding your pet just 10% of their caloric needs using a “scooper” is enough to cause unhealthy weight gain resulting in obesity.  Leaving out a vital nutrient that your pet needs can be detrimental to your pet’s health but often impossible to be aware of.
Evolving Needs Require Evolving Nutrition
Further complicating the process is the fact that every day is a different day for your pet, and with each new day, a new set of needs is established.  Even an intimate relationship with your veterinarian is not sufficient to fully capture your pet’s continuously changing needs.  
“One of the challenges faced by veterinarians is not being able to get exact information on a pet’s activity level or when and how much they have eaten over a period of time. Since pet parents don’t spend 24 hours with their pets, sometimes getting detailed information on activity and eating behaviors can be challenging. Having access to more information regarding a pet’s activity levels, diet, and behavioral trends, through trackers and transparent diets, is priceless. This gives us the insights we need that a pet simply can’t communicate to us directly.” – Dr. Arlianne Velez, Chief Veterinarian, PetMio, Inc.
As pet parents, it is our responsibility to understand our pet’s lifestyle and their corresponding nutritional needs.  
[1] I.M. Bland et al. / Preventive Veterinary Medicine 94 (2010) 310–315
[2] Linder, D., Mueller, M. (2014). Pet Obesity Management. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice, 44(4), 789-806.
[3] Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (2017),
[5] Buffington, T (2013),  What Should I Feed My Pet?  Don’t Let Marketing Confuse You,,
[6] Fuller, M (2012), Animal Eating Disorders – They’re More Common Thank You Think,,