As pet obesity rises, pandemic brings more challenges

Amid an epidemic of pet obesity in the United States, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital reported a 24% increase in the number of overweight dogs treated at its practices over the last seven years.

These findings come when many pet owners are staying at home more during the pandemic. In some cases, that’s a good thing, as it gives more opportunity for pets to get outside, but it’s led to overfeeding and a drop in exercise in other cases. Banfield Pet Hospital in September noted that about a third of pet owners in a survey thought their pets have gained weight during the pandemic.

“Owners that are more likely to get up and move—those who get a bit stir crazy while working from home—may be taking on more of an active role regarding their pet’s activity levels,” said veterinarian Lindsey E. Bullen, a BluePearl veterinary nutritionist and adjunct professor at Lincoln Memorial University-College of Veterinary Medicine. “This means more walks and playtime.”

Alternatively, Bullen said, “people who are finding it difficult to balance their personal and professional lives may be interacting less with their pets, and to show their affection are giving pets more treats. Also, pets who aren’t used to having their owners home all day are now given many more opportunities to bug them for attention and treats.”

Diets have also changed during the pandemic. “Whether due to economic hardship or panic that results in people bulk-buying pet foods, foods are not as readily available as they once were, and finances make all the difference,” Bullen said. “Every diet is different in terms of nutrient profile and calories per cup, or caloric density, and if there isn’t someone there to help the owner figure out those calculations than it is easy to over- or even underfeed your pet—especially if you are switching diets.”