Obesity has increased dramatically in the United States during the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the CDC data describe the human population, other studies indicate that a substantial proportion of American pets also have become obese.
In response, the AVMA and Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. have joined together to help veterinarians and veterinary staff educate clients about the health implications of obesity in cats and dogs. On Jan. 20 at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla., the organizations announced the formation of the Alliance for Healthier Pets—Obesity Awareness and Prevention Program. The alliance is offering the 2008 Obesity Awareness and Prevention Kit to veterinary clinics and launching the 2008 PetFit Challenge and PetFit Tour.
"This outreach effort will reinforce the veterinary profession's irreplaceable role in preserving the health and well-being of pets," said Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA executive vice president. "Obesity-related diseases are robbing beloved pets of both length and quality of life.
"Even more exciting is evidence that, because the human-animal bond and the veterinarian's role in maintaining it are so powerful, this effort will have an indirect benefit to the obesity epidemic we are seeing in our nation's human population."
Encouraging clients to spend more time walking their dogs or playing with their cats could, for example, improve the physical fitness of pets and pet owners alike.
A weighty subject
Veterinarians and veterinary staff may have concerns about discussing pet obesity with clients who are self-conscious about their own weight, who can't identify the problem in their pets, or who overfeed pets when showing affection.
The 2008 Obesity Awareness and Prevention Kit contains materials to assist in starting the conversation with clients regarding the optimal weight of their cats and dogs. The program guide provides tips for initiating the weight discussion, promoting pet fitness, and improving compliance. The kit also contains cat and dog owners' guides to healthy weight management, a tool for body condition scoring, cards to remind owners when pets are due for a checkup, feeding cups, and a window cling. Posters, a scale mat, and a counter mat will be shipped separately.
Dr. Gregory S. Hammer, AVMA president, said the purpose of the Alliance for Healthier Pets with Hill's is to provide creative tools to assist with client education.
"Through the adoption of proper nutrition, increased physical activity, and regular veterinary visits, owners can help their best friends live longer and healthier lives," Dr. Hammer said. "This is based on the scientific evidence that obesity is not just an appearance problem; it is a condition that can lead to serious disease."
The JAVMA has published scientific articles from a number of studies that investigated aspects of obesity in cats and dogs. "Associations between body condition and disease in cats" (see JAVMA, June 1, 1998, page 1725) concluded that obese cats are more than twice as likely as cats of optimal weight to develop nonallergic skin conditions, four times as likely to develop diabetes mellitus, and five times as likely to develop lameness requiring veterinary care. "Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs" (see JAVMA, May 1, 2002 [PDF]) found that diet restriction in dogs increased median life span and delayed the onset of signs of chronic disease.
The Obesity Awareness and Prevention Program is relevant to both the AVMA mission of "improving animal, human, and public health" and Hill's mission "to enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets." The organizations seek to create an impetus for veterinary professionals to talk with pet owners about weight management for at-risk patients. The outreach effort emphasizes sound nutrition, daily fitness, and regular weigh-ins at the veterinary clinic.
"Pet obesity continues to be a condition more veterinary health care teams find during pet examinations, and there is a need to help owners understand the ramifications," said Dr. Christine Jenkins, director of Hill's Academic Affairs. "We are excited to team up with the AVMA to help impact the lives of pets in need of a weight lifestyle change."
Outside the clinic
The AVMA and Hill's also are partnering to offer the 2008 PetFit Challenge and PetFit Tour, expanding on programs that Hill's initiated previously. The challenge and tour will re-emphasize the health risks of pet obesity.
The PetFit Challenge encourages veterinary professionals and clients to improve pets' weight management through good nutrition and active playtime. Fitness expert Gunnar Petersen is kicking off the 2008 challenge in Los Angeles by hosting a people and pet fitness event.
The PetFit Tour is visiting major U.S. cities, starting in Miami, from January through October 2008. The tour's interactive exhibit illustrates how the same snack is more food for a pet than a person, proportionately, and extra pounds also are more substantial on pets than people. Visitors to the exhibit can try on a backpack with weights that represent the rough equivalent of a couple of extra pounds on a cat, for example.
The PetFit Tour will make stops at veterinary conferences, veterinary clinics, and other locations in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington. One stop will be at the 145th AVMA Annual Convention, July 19-22 in New Orleans.
"If we are to truly help the pets we love who suffer from obesity, the time is now," said Dr. Janet D. Donlin, chief of the Hill's Veterinary Business Channel. "As veterinary professionals, we have an obligation to do our part to help pet owners take steps toward forging a healthier tomorrow for their dogs and cats."
The Obesity Awareness and Prevention Kit
and details about the
PetFit Challenge and PetFit Tour
are available at