More to love -- Utah above average for fat pets

Liz Groves holds Missy at her home in Riverdale.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Story by Amy K. Stewart
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Jun 4, 2012
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Burt, a tabby who lives with the Sanders family in North Ogden, isn’t fat — he’s just big-boned, claims his owner, David Sanders.

“I don’t feed him that much. It’s just the breed of the cat,” Sanders said, adding he has never weighed Burt, who is 12 years old. “I’ve just picked him up and he’s heavy. He’s just a big cat.”

Sanders’ children, however, say their father is in denial, arguing that Burt has a serious weight problem.

A report released by Banfield Pet Hospital reveals 27 percent of dogs and 27 percent of cats in the Salt Lake City area are overweight or obese. That compares to about 20 percent nationwide.

Only Minnesota and South Dakota have more overweight dogs; those same two states as well as Oklahoma are the only ones exceeding Utah’s percentage of overweight cats.

Ogden veterinarian Eric Clough says Northern Utah pets likely share the same statistics.

However, he believes Banfield’s numbers are actually a low estimate.

“I think it’s higher than that,” said Clough, judging from the pets he sees at Burch Creek Animal Hospital in Ogden, where he is the medical director.

And the pet obesity rate is increasing. Banfield’s 2012 State of Pet Health Report reveals a dramatic rise in overweight and obese pets: an increase of 37 percent in dogs and 90 percent in cats nationwide.

The report, compiled by Banfield’s internal research team, Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK), captured and analyzed medical data from the 2 million dogs and nearly 430,000 cats cared for in Banfield’s 800 hospitals in 2011. (Five states — Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Vermont and Maine — don’t have Banfield clinics and, thus, aren’t included in the study.)

Just like humans — 35.7 percent of whom are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — chubby pets are prone to serious health problems, including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and hypothyroidism.

“There are multiple health problems,” Clough said.

Accepting your pet is overweight is hard for many people, Clough said. “It’s difficult to bring it up. People can take offense. They don’t want to hear that about their pet,” he said.

One in five dogs and cats is considered overweight or obese, according to the report. In general, a pet is considered overweight when its ribs, spine and hip bones can barely be felt when touching the body, according to a Banfield press release.

“The typical reaction of pet owners is they say, ‘But I’m not feeding my pet that much,’ ” Clough said, “but somewhere the calorie intake is exceeding the expenditure.”

Why are so many pets fat? Clough said it’s because owners equate feeding them with love. “They get a positive, immediate response that reinforces their behavior,” he said. “A better way is to show them attention and get them to exercise.”

Liz Groves, of Riverdale, has three cats that are pretty hefty: Squeaky, 14, a turtle-shell; Missy, 8, a black and white long-hair domestic; and Scamper, 6, a cream-colored tabby.

The cats, all females, are indoor pets. Missy is the fattest of the trio right now, and Scamper is a vegetarian, refusing to eat anything but dried cat food and cheese.

Groves limits their food and doesn’t let them have easy access. “They are losing weight,” she said.

For information on pet weight loss, Clough recommends www.projectpetslimdown.com, a website created by Purina. Basically, it’s all about decreasing calorie intake and getting your pet to exercise.

A couple of pieces of advice: Do not allow your pet to have unlimited access to food, and don’t feed it table scraps or treats.

“That really packs in the calories,” Clough said, adding that there are various diet pet foods to choose from.

Exercise for a dog means simply walking and playing with it each day. Cats can be a bit more challenging; Clough recommends a laser pointer and string-based toys they can chase.

“My neighbors walk their cats around the block on a harness,” he said. “Cats can be trained to walk. They just don’t appreciate having a harness around them if they haven’t been conditioned to it.”

Groves’ cats especially like chasing tiny plastic balls with bells inside.

Groves points out that having more than one pet will generally result in the animals getting more exercise by playing with each other.

“It helps,” she said. “They’ll chase each other. The younger cats keep the older ones on their toes.”

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