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JoAnna Lou
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The Growing Pet Weight Loss Industry
Companies respond to the canine obesity problem

Human weight loss is a billion dollar industry, covering everything from books to personal training. When I first heard about a local doggy daycare’s canine “fat camp,” I thought it might be taking advantage of our obsession with shedding pounds. Activities at the camp include hikes, walks on a treadmill, doga (canine yoga!), and swimming. The marketing is certainly creative, but the camp is actually reflecting a nationwide epidemic.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of dogs and cats are considered overweight or obese. It’s a problem that veterinarians are calling the single most preventable health crisis in America.

The pet industry is responding by introducing products like canine treadmills, specially designed toys to increase activity, and dog running leashes.

Last year the makers of Science Diet introduced a line of meals and treats in pre-measured packets. And when Banfield found that veterinarians were hesitant to tell people that their dogs were overweight, the national veterinary chain introduced software to give pets a Body Condition Score.

Obesity can lead to a number of health problems, including diabetes and kidney failure. And research has suggested that a lower calorie diet can lead to a longer lifespan. So why are so many pets overweight?

First, most of us lead a pretty sedentary life these days, which carries over to our pets. Second, it can be hard to feed the right amount of food. I know my dogs would eat all day if they could and it can be hard to resist their cute faces. At my house, we replaced frequent treats with pieces of carrots and other vegetables.

According to Dr. Denise Elliott, a veterinarian and nutritionist at Banfield, the feeding directions on pet food packages can be inflated by as much as 25 percent.

Also, many people don’t know what normal weight looks like for a dog. Purina has a helpful chart on their website, but it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

The pet obesity epidemic is a serious one, but it’s a problem that our pups are counting on us to figure out.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Mr. TGT/flickr.

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