(CNN) – Pets are often celebrated for conforming to their owner’s mannerisms.
Walk at the same pace? A sign of good training. Snuggle up and watch TV together? Adorable.
Stressful eating together because you are both at home all day due to a major pandemic? Less lovable – and potentially dangerous.
Veterinarians in the United States have noticed weight gain and higher levels of obesity in pets since the pandemic began, said Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinary drug therapist and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
“We’re seeing reports from more and more vets saying, ‘Look, we’re seeing more weight gain this year than last year,” he told CNN. “(The pandemic) is the perfect storm.”
More snacks at home, less outside
Restrictions on movement, coupled with more snacks at home, likely lead to weight gain and obesity in pets, Ward said.
Simon McDevitt, a New York corgi, is a living example of what more snacks and fewer walks can mean to a dog’s health.
Its owner, Margaret McDevitt, told CNN that with more time at home, she tended to feed Simon off the couch.
“He’s the ultimate smart food popcorn lover,” she said. “When we are more at home and watch TV in the middle of the day … he sees the bag and just begs.”
McDevitt said she has noticed a 2 or 3 pound increase since March 2020 – but the number is difficult to estimate as he gets extra fluff as his coat gets long.
McDevitt lived in a small apartment and said it was difficult to get Simon enough exercise.
“During COVID, his long walks definitely got shorter,” she said. “It was one thing to want to limit your exposure to other people on the street – but they just weren’t fun anymore. To be with so many people, to have to wear a mask … it’s just a different experience. “
In times before the pandemic, it is easier for Simon to do sports in the dog park or in another public space. But the pandemic has made these options less safe, and now, with colder weather, there are several barriers to adequate exercise.
You are stressed, and so are your pets
There’s another factor that Ward said underlies weight gain and obesity in pets: stress.
“When you’re stressed or anxious, your brain secretes a whole cascade of neurochemicals that encourage you to eat,” he said.
Pets pick this up.
“Our pets tend to take on these emotional traits because they’re very empathetic,” he said. “You are looking for emotional clues with us.”
McDevitt said Simon has been eating stress since the pandemic. She was on leave in March and was spending more time at home; She noticed that he would eat faster and beg for food more often.
“He’s having a harder time when I leave the house,” she said. “He initially had separation anxiety, and after being at home so much, I noticed that he was doing this as a coping mechanism.”
She said she plans to bring Simon to a healthy weight.
“Now that spring is coming, I plan to extend his walks again,” she said. “I just got a new job so I’m trying to put him on a meal plan when I leave the house … now that I’m not home that much, he’s definitely going to lay that (popcorn) off . “
Keeping the sweet in check
Pet owners should keep their pets’ weight under control, even if that extra fluff may be so cute, Ward said.
Pet obesity can increase an animal’s risk for diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer if ignored, he said.
It can also cut a pet’s life by more than two years. A 2019 study found that overweight dogs had an average lifespan of up to 2 1/2 years shorter than that of their healthy-weight dogs.
Ward said obesity-related diseases are preventable.
“It’s like we have a crystal ball,” he said. “We know what will happen to your 18-pound cat in the future.”
For pet parents looking to get their pets’ weight under control, Ward said the first thing to do is evaluate the problem.
To see if their pet is overweight, owners can check the pet’s side profile to see if the belly is hanging lower. Or they can look at their pet from above – if they have an airship or balloon look, he said, that’s a good indicator of obesity.
Once pet owners understand their pet’s weight, they can start rewiring some of these negative quarantine habits, such as: B. Sitting excessively or snacking excessively.
As always, handing over pets to the veterinarian is a surefire way to understand the risk that a pet’s weight poses.
But Ward said pet owners shouldn’t ultimately be tracking a number on a scale – they should be chasing quality of life.
Simon has come a long way since his rescue in 2014, McDevitt said. She worked hard to ease his anxiety and build his trustworthiness – and the two of them formed a remarkably close bond in the process.
“He’s my pandemic buddy,” she said. “We have to take care of each other.”