2015 Nationwide Survey Confirms Continued Rise of Obese Pets, Sparking the Need for Industry Change
Calabash, N.C.—March 15, 2016—Pet obesity continues to be a growing problem, affecting the majority of US dogs and cats. Research conducted in 2015 by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that approximately 58 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs were overweight or obese. Veterinarians are alarmed by the steady increase in pets classified as clinically obese. They are calling upon the veterinary industry to clearly define and classify pet obesity as a disease and adopt a universal Body Condition Score (BCS) scale for assessing pet obesity.
“The American Medical Association (AMA) recognized obesity as a disease in 2013. I think the time has come for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to follow suit,” stresses Dr. Ernie Ward of Ocean Isle, North Carolina, founder of APOP. “By defining obesity as a disease, many veterinarians will take the condition more seriously and be compelled to act rather than ignore this serious health threat.”
APOP also points out a lack of consensus surrounding the definition of obesity. The organization defines clinical pet obesity as 30 percent above ideal weight, but that definition varies among veterinary practitioners, industry stakeholders and pet owners. “Our profession hasn’t agreed on what separates ‘obese’ from ‘overweight,’” University of Georgia veterinary surgeon and APOP Board member Dr. Steve Budsberg states, “These words have significant clinical meaning and affect treatment recommendations.”
The lack of professional consensus in defining pet obesity has created confusion among industry leaders. This confusion can lead to underreporting and a decreased emphasis on the pet obesity issue by the veterinary industry and clients. A uniform definition of pet obesity would benefit veterinarians who are struggling to find a tactful and effective way to discuss obesity and the importance of weight loss. It will also create an increase in awareness and discussion around the issue for both veterinarians and pet owners.
Due to these growing problems, Dr. Ward challenges the veterinary profession to standardize medical terminology and tools for obesity. “APOP is committed to uniting veterinarians with a single set of pet obesity definitions and tools. We are working toward a common professional standard Body Condition Score (BCS) with European colleagues and universal definitions for overweight and obese.”
“There are currently three major BCS scales used worldwide,” emphasizes University of Minnesota veterinary nutritionist and APOP Board member, Dr. Julie Churchill. “We need a single standard to ensure all veterinary health care team members are on the same page.” Multiple methods for assessing and classifying an animal’s body condition creates considerable confusion and requires additional clarification for veterinary professionals to distinguish how they are assessing a pet’s body condition.
APOP is pushing for the adoption of a universal BCS—a whole-integer, one-through-nine (1–9) scale. This scale will allow veterinarians to more consistently interpret veterinary medical research, accurately assess their patients’ body conditions and clearly communicate with colleagues and clients.
Excess weight can reduce pet life expectancy and negatively impact quality of life. “The reality is, obesity kills,” comments Dr. Joe Barges, Academic Director for Cornell University Veterinary Specialists and APOP Board member. “Numerous studies have linked obesity with type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, many forms of cancer and decreased life expectancy. Our survey validates the notion that we’re seeing more obese pets with more potential medical problems.”
APOP has joined forces with other international industry organizations to form The Global Pet Obesity Initiative. The group’s goal is to create obesity standards and provide training for the veterinary community. Leaders look forward to collaborating with other organizations, universities, researchers and industry leaders to develop additional efforts and tools to combat pet obesity as a disease. They also plan to develop a certifying procedure for veterinarians and veterinary technicians who successfully complete additional training programs.
To learn more about the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention or the 2015 study, visit PetObesityPrevention.org.
About the Research
The annual obesity prevalence survey is conducted by APOP. Veterinary practices assessed the body condition scores of every dog and cat patient they saw for a regular wellness exam on a given day in October. Body condition scores based on a five-point scale and actual weight were used in classifying pets as either underweight, ideal, overweight or obese. The latest survey included the assessment of 1,224 dogs and cats by 136 veterinary clinics.
About the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP)
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention was founded in 2005 by Dr. Ernie Ward with the primary mission of documenting pet obesity levels in the United States to raise awareness of the issue and its negative impact on pets. The APOP board is made up of veterinary practitioners, nutritionists, surgeons and internal medicine specialists. APOP conducts annual research to substantiate pet obesity prevalence levels in the United States and offers resources for veterinarians and pet owners to better equip them to recognize and fight pet obesity. More information about APOP can be found on their website, petobesityprevention.org and Facebook page, Facebook.com/PetObesityPrevention.