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Leading Veterinary Group Agrees Pet Obesity Is a Disease

A group of veterinarians has made progress in their quest to have pet obesity classified as a disease.

In July 2018, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) board of directors endorsed the Global Pet Obesity Initiative’s position statement regarding dog and cat obesity. The initiative calls for veterinarians to recognize pet obesity as a disease, adopt a uniform definition of pet obesity, and use one universal body condition scoring system.

The AVMA’s endorsement of the disease designation is consistent with the position of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, whose members have considered pet obesity a disease since 2016. It’s also consistent with those human-health-related organizations that have classified human obesity as a disease.

How is obesity a disease?

Human physicians have debated various reasons for and against defining obesity in people as a disease for decades. Yet, in 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized obesity as a disease because it meets the association’s definition of disease:

  • Impairs normal functioning of some part of the body
  • Demonstrates characteristic signs or symptoms
  • Causes injury, disability or poor health

As with human obesity, pet obesity meets the same criteria for definition as a disease. Obesity in dogs results from consuming too many calories over a prolonged period of time. The extra energy gets stored as increased amounts of fat, not just under the skin or in the abdomen, but in and around other tissues and organs such as muscles, heart and kidneys. Increased body fat also changes how the body’s metabolism, hormones and inflammation are controlled, which can lead to impaired function, related health issues and reduced quality of life.

In fact, research has shown that obesity can reduce a dog’s lifespan, negatively affect quality of life, and be linked to several health problems, including arthritis, diabetes or insulin resistance (decreased sensitivity to insulin), skin disease and certain types of cancer.

A serious problem that continues to grow

The percentage of overweight and obese dogs has increased at an alarming rate over the past 10 years. While an estimated 43 percent of U.S. dogs were overweight or obese in 2007 according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, the organization’s 2017 survey found an estimated 56 percent of dogs were considered clinically overweight or obese by their veterinarians.

Global Pet Obesity Initiative members believe defining pet obesity as a disease will reduce any stigma that still surrounds it and encourage veterinarians and pet owners alike to take the necessary steps to decrease this prevalent, often-ignored condition.

If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s weight or food, please talk with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can tell you if your dog is just right, too thin or too heavy. She or he can also recommend strategies for getting your dog to — and keeping him or her at — a healthy weight and body condition.

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