Aug 312011
Authors: Blair Carpenter

Pet obesity tends to conjure up images like the lasagna-loving Garfield, but as our waistlines as a country grow, so does the number of waddling pets. Obesity in pets can pose serious health risks, and the pet’s owner can easily avoid these problems with the right care.

Many CSU students and their families own pets, and even in a healthy place like Fort Collins, pets are not safe from obesity.

“My dog is SO fat!” said freshman psychology major Madison Markel. “For Halloween we’re going to dress her as a s’more, with cardboard for the graham cracker and brown felt for the chocolate.”

Jokes aside, overweight pets have become such a concern among the veterinary community that there are new groups forming to combat it, such as the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
According to the APOP website, about 54 percent of America’s dogs and cats are overweight, only 14 percent lower than the percentage of overweight Americans.

“I’d say we’ve seen a steady increasing trend over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, an assistant professor at CSU’s animal teaching hospital. “In a lot of instances, what looks like normal to people is actually overweight.”

The causes of pet obesity are similar to those that make people obese; simultaneous overeating and inactivity are the main causes.

A condition known as hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland that regulates the body’s hormone production and distribution doesn’t work properly, also contributes to obesity in pets and people alike, Ruch-Gallie said.

The tolls on pets if they are overweight include joint problems, heart problems, diabetes and immune disorders. Fat is considered an “irritant organ” and therefore irritates the immune system.

If your pet is overweight, treatment can be very simple.  Eliminating food scraps and giving “people food” to pets can help, along with feeding your animal small meals throughout the day so they feel full and are less prone to begging at the table.

Regularly exercise with your pet, or make sure it has the tools it needs, such as cat toys, to prevent inactivity if you have to be gone for long periods of time.

“We suggest this thing called body conditioning,” Ruch-Gallie said. “You know your pet’s lost weight because you feel it with your hands, similar to when you know you’ve lost weight because your jeans feel looser. Your hands are the jeans.”ppy. The dog may not be overweight now. Feeding it lots of treats seems fun, but it’s just as important to prevent pet obesity, as it is to reverse its effects.

Make sure to regulate how much your pet eats, and make sure you aren’t feeding it more than is recommended. If only one member of your household feeds the pet, it helps to make sure the pet is not being overfed.

Cats especially need to be placed in an enriching environment so they can be playful and active, not bored and lazy.

Staving off pet obesity sounds simple but, “[obesity in pets] is kind of insidious. It creeps up on you,” Ruch-Gallie said.  

So take your dog on a walk, put your Meow Mix where Fluffy can’t get to it and don’t forget to celebrate Pet Obesity Awareness Day on Oct. 13.

Collegian writer Blair Carpenter can be reached at

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