According to the World Health Organisation global obesity rates have doubled since 1980, and the epidemic of diabetes, which is closely associated with obesity and urbanisation, has skyrocketed. This obesity epidemic is mirrored in the pet population, and the underlying cause is similar – too much energy being consumed and too little used up, with people and pets leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Non-communicable (lifestyle) diseases in humans and animals are becoming costly health problems.
Veterinarian Dr Guy Fyvie, of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, is one of the leading experts on pet obesity in South Africa. “Being overweight or obese puts cats and dogs at an increased risk of breathing problems, heart disease, arthritis and cancer. A fat cat is four times more likely to develop diabetes. People who over-feed their pets may actually be shortening its lifespan.”
A 2010 national health survey conducted by GlaxoSmithKline found that 61% of South Africans are overweight, obese or morbidly obese. There was a definite gap between perception and reality: 78% of obese people and 52% of morbidly obese people said they regarded themselves as somewhat healthy or very healthy. Only 34% consider themselves as overweight or obese. Research conducted by Hill’s Pet Nutrition echoed this reality gap; only 12.5% of dog owners and 20% of cat owners consider their pet to be overweight. Yet South African veterinarians say that about half the pets they treat weigh more than they should.
Although the marketing of pet ‘diets’ is nowhere near the scale of that for people, there are several pet foods available that are marketed as ‘light’, ‘low calorie’ or obesity treatments. In a recent study* which evaluated pet foods marketed for weight loss, there was a wide variation in recommended calorie intake, kilocalories and cost for diet foods. In the 44 canine diets tested, the calorie density ranged from 217 to 440 kcal/cup! And findings were similar in the feline diets tested – with a variance of 235 to 480 kcal/cup.
And just as there are weight management clinics for people, hundreds of veterinary clinics across South Africa run special pet slimmer programmes to help their overweight patients reach a healthier weight. A list of clinics in South Africa can be found on www.petslimmer.co.za as well as tools to calculate a pet’s ideal weight. Voting is open on the site until 22 October to choose South Africa’s 2012 Hill’s Pet Slimmer of the Year, ten once-portly pets vying for the title.
(Press release, October 2012)