The high cost of pet obesity

Social media is overflowing with amusing videos of pudgy pooches and corpulent kitties, but the cost of treating their health problems is no laughing matter for their owners.

PetPlan, a provider of health insurance for animal companions, considers obesity the top health threat to pets in 2017, according to Dr. Ernie Ward, Petplan Veterinary Advisory Board member and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. The association estimates that more than half the nation’s cats and dogs are overweight.

Like with their human owners, eating right and exercising will help pets shed those extra pounds.

“In addition to daily exercise, swap fatty treats for lower-calorie options, or better yet opt for praise and playtime instead of snacks,” Ward said in a press release. “And know your pet’s calorie count -- ask your vet how many calories your pet needs each day, and stick to that number.”

Figuring out the ideal weight for a dog or cat can be tricky because each animal is unique. However, as a general rule of thumb, dogs and cats should have a tucked waist with ribs that can felt though not seen.

“When there is no longer a visibly tucked waist, or you are starting to feel excessive fat over the ribs, spine, base of tail, neck, limbs, etc., you should consult with your veterinarian about a weight loss plan,” said PetPlan Veterinary Manager Elyse Donnarumma in a statement.

 Here are some common obesity-related ailments and their costs.

  • Overeating: When pets eat more than they should, bad things can happen such as vomiting and diarrhea. PetPlan sees an average of 900 claims a month for digestive troubles. The average cost for treatment is $850.

  • Cancer: Overweight pets, like overweight people, are more susceptible to certain types of cancer. PetPlan estimates the average costs to treat pet cancers at $2,033.

  • Joints: The additional pounds can injure a dog’s knee or cranial cruciate ligament from the added stress, which can cost an average of $3,480 to treat. Lameness often caused by arthritis can run $966.

  • Urinary tract infections: Pets too hefty to clean those “hard to reach areas” may be more at risk of contracting this illness, which can cost $590 to treat.

  • Heart disease: Like humans, obesity in pets can cause high blood pressure among other issues. The average costs to treat cardiac conditions is $1,232.

  • Back problems: Some dog breeds such as dachshunds and basset hounds are prone to intervertebral disc disease, and added weight increases their chances contracting it. PetPlan pegs the treatment costs at $2,033.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.