Portly pets, hefty humans

Consumer Reports News: December 11, 2010 09:08 AM

When we adopted Molly—a lovable fur-ball of a mutt—two years ago she wasn’t exactly malnourished but she was on the skinny side, with a tell-tale ripple of ribs showing. Now you need to push pretty hard to even feel them. Molly, the vet told us gently, is definitely overweight, and well on her way to joining the growing group of obese pets.

Roughly a third of cats and dogs in the U.S. are now considered obese—a number eerily similar to the number of obese humans. That excess weight puts pets at risk for many of the same health problems as their human co-habitants, including arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even premature death.

The risk factors for obesity in dogs are almost as numerous as the rolls forming on Molly’s haunches, and most of them we have no control over. After all, I can’t change Molly’s breed or make her any younger. But I can take charge of the two most important ones:  too much food (unrestricted access to treats, table scraps, high-calorie home-cooked meals), and a sedentary lifestyle. I’ll admit that when she trains those big brown eyes on me (and what I’m eating) it’s hard to say no. Still, my son calling her “the puppy pillow” now has an uncomfortable ring of truth to it.

A British study published last month suggests that other animals that live with or near humans, including research animals and feral rodents, are also gaining girth. But it seems that too much food and too little exercise aren’t the only reasons. The researchers speculated that unidentified viruses or non-genetic environmental factors may be at play.

Still, in my home we’re focusing on diet and exercise. That means no more sharing ice cream. The bedtime treat that my husband has given her since she came to live with us has been cut in half. The kids are under strict orders not to slip scraps under the table, no matter how pathetically she stares at them. Her walks are getting longer and more frequent–even when I end up carrying her for the last couple of blocks.

So along with helping out Molly, I might be doing myself a favor, too.

 —Erin Gudeux, sensory senior project leader

 See our advice on pets and pet products and how to control your weight.


Joel Keehn

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