Fat cats and dogs cost plenty in vet bills

ENGLEWOOD — An estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to a study released by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Experts blame the owners.

‘People surrender their animals for various reasons,’ said Phil Synder, executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society in Englewood. ‘There are an alarming number that come in obese. Quite a few of those…are certainly prone to more health problems.’

One in five to one in eight pets come in overweight on average, said Marilu Lippert, animal care manager of Suncoast Humane.

‘We rate their body condition on a scale to determine on how obese they are,’ Lippert said.

Teresa Smith, a veterinarian at Heron Creek Animal Hospital in North Port, said 50 to 60 percent of her daily patients are either overweight or obese.

‘It’s been a problem every year for the past five to 10 years,’ Smith said. ‘I don’t know if it’s getting worse. I think it’s very common. We did a knee surgery on an 8-month-old Chihuahua that was already obese. Her knees were not working right and the weight was making it worse.’

Obesity in pets can lead to many chronic and expensive health problems including diabetes, Smith said.

‘Insulin for cats is about $120 a bottle,’ Smith said. ‘Insulin for dogs can vary from $25 to $80 a bottle. You can easily spend $100 to $200 a month on a diabetic animal with their food, insulin, syringes, blood tests — easily.’

Additional costs may include joint supplements, injectible glucosamines, acupuncture and pain medication — anywhere from about $50 a month to $50 a week, Smith said.

Suncoast Humane tends to get more overweight cats than dogs. Pet owners’ lack of education is responsible for the trend, Lippert said.

‘People don’t tend to take their house cats to the vet as readily dog owners do because cats usually stay indoors,’ Lippert said. ‘So they think it’s not necessary to get vet check ups or it’s stressful to the cat and it’s a hassle to them. By the time they have to take the cat to the vet, the problem already exists whereas dog owners, they’re getting their yearly checkups normally.’

The more-vigilant dog owners are often more willing to go into a dietary plan since they tend to catch the problem sooner, Lippert said. Once they are aware of the problem, clients cooperate, she said.

Many of the poor dietary decisions owners make for their pets are based on lack of knowledge about nutritional value of pet food.

‘We make diet plans,’ Smith said. ‘How many treats? How many Cheerios?’

A cup of one pet food brand may be 500 calories and another brand may be 50 calories, Smith said.

Then there’s pet treats.

‘They think of them as their children and they hate to see them hungry,’ Smith said. ‘A lot of people think food is love and so they keep giving them treat after treat and those calories add up.’

Deva Ballantyne, adoptions and store manager of EARS Animal Rescue Sanctuary in Englewood, said many of the brands sold in retail chains are unhealthy for pets. EARS sells food for animals that are diebetic, have autoimmune disorders and weight issues.

‘The stuff at (chain stores)…has a lot of corn, which animals can’t process correctly and that’s when they get into those overweight issues. Animals are a lot like people,’ Ballantyne said. ‘A lot of the good foods are meat- and vegetable-based.’

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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