Is Modern Pet Food Making Pets Fat?

The prevalence of pet obesity is posing a challenge to the pet food industry. Commercially available pet food has generally remained unchanged over the years. This means that the nutritional aspects and labeling of pet food haven’t changed to support healthy weight management in pets.

With a growing rise in pet obesity worldwide, pet owners are searching for healthier pet foods to prevent obesity in pets and their associated health risks. This is creating a demand for pet food companies and the pet food industry to be more transparent about their foods, and to work on creating healthier pet food options and labeling to support pet weight management.

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Image Credit: Unsplash

Pet obesity is a growing epidemic

Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in Australian cats and dogs, with an estimated 40% of pets being overweight. In the US and other parts of the world, the rates of pet obesity have remained unchanged. What this suggests is that pet obesity remains a serious health threat, particularly when there is conflicting information on pet nutritional advice and weight loss advice.

When it comes to pet food, many pet owners don’t really understand pet nutrition or the nutrients in pet food. For most of us, reading the nutritional values on pet food labels isn’t part of our pet’s weight management plan. On the advice of veterinarians, the popular line of defense against pet obesity is to feed them less and exercise them more.

In a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), it was discovered that pet owners and veterinary professionals were confused by pet nutritional advice and continue to struggle to help pets achieve safe and ideal weights.

“The majority of pet owners are overwhelmed with pet food choices and conflicting dietary advice and desperately want help and nutritional recommendations from veterinarians”, states APOP President, Dr. Ernie Ward.

Some experts argue that pet obesity is mostly attributable to the excess pet food that owners are giving their pets. The use of starch in pet foods is leading to excess carbohydrate consumption, contributing to pets becoming overweight. Others state that our pet’s lives are mirroring our own, with more pets overeating and under-exercising.

APOPs survey also highlighted the lack of consensus among pet owners and veterinarians when it comes to the definition of obesity. Because there is no definitive guide when it comes to what and how much pet food our pets should eat, our pet owners are facing an uphill battle in keeping their pets healthy.

The need for transparency in the pet food industry

Pet obesity is a concern. From a welfare point of view, it leads to multiple health issues such as diabetes, breathing issues, osteoarthritis, and a shortened life span. Given the misinformation shared between veterinarians and pet owners, pet food industries have a responsibility to be more transparent—especially towards seniors.

In October 2019, Mexico approved a new law for processed food labeling that could eventually affect the labeling of pet food products too. These labels will include graphical warnings that highlight any ‘nasties’ including excess sodium, sugars, calories, trans fats, and saturated fats.

It’s this approach that pet food companies must take if it were to help lower the rates of pet obesity around the world. According to pet nutrition experts Pet Food Sherpa, there are some companies that are slowly introducing healthier pet foods within their standard range, and they appear to be a welcome fix in a market desperately in need of a healthier reform.

Final thoughts

As more health concerns appear, pet food companies will most likely focus more on improving ingredients and nutritional values and labeling on their products. In any case, pet owners can help keep their pets healthy by regularly walking and engaging in activity and sourcing or preparing homemade healthy meals where they can.

Pet obesity is a generalized problem facing the world over and is affecting a large proportion of pets in our region. It is hopeful that nutrition and weight management in pets will become more relevant as more consumers demand greater selection in pet food and for transparency within the pet food industry. This demand will also create a surge of business opportunities, giving a niche market the chance to meet a need and give pet owners a better chance of protecting their pet’s health.

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