Professor Alex German of the Institute of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool has been a long-time collaborator with WALTHAM seeking solutions to the growing problem of pet obesity. Together with his colleague Georgiana Woods, and Royal Canin partners Shelley Holden, Louise Brennan and Caroline Burke, he has just published a letter in the UK Veterinary Record urging urgent action on pet obesity.
Q: Why did you send the letter to the Veterinary Record?
AG: I’ve been working in the field of obesity biology for 15 years, and what alarms me most is that, despite a lot of effort, investment and hard work from many people, I don’t think we’re making much impact on what I see as the most important medical disease of our time, and that concerns me.
Q: Why now? What has changed?
AG: Obesity is getting worse rather than better; it’s a growing problem with major impact. The longer we as a profession spend not tackling it, addressing it and making some hard decisions, the more difficult the problem will be. We have recently conducted a study examining the prevalence of overweight dogs in the UK. Most concerning was the fact that around a third of growing dogs are already overweight. And, if that is the case at now, what are the numbers going to be in 10 or 15 years’ time?
Q: So what needs to be done?
AG: The veterinary profession needs to take a long look at how we are handling this crisis, to take the problem more seriously and act urgently. In many respects, this is a call to arms. We need to give vets on the front line better strategies to manage existing obesity in dogs and cats but, most importantly, we need to focus on the future and cut off the problem at source. This means focusing on the next generation of pets, ensuring they start on the right track, growing healthily so that they never encounter this problem. There are various ways we can address this, including monitoring their growth pattern with charts, but I think the first thing is that we sit up and actually pay attention to obesity as a concern.
Q: What is at fault here? Is it the pet, the food or the owner?
AG: On the face of it, it seems to be a very simple disease. It’s simply a matter of energy imbalance: on the one had too much energy in, on the other insufficient expenditure. In reality, there is a complex physiological disorder at play with multiple risk factors. For example, there is the genetics of the individual animal and other characteristics such as neutering and age; there is the environment; and also the fact that, as a vet, you are dealing two “patients”: the pet and the owner. The owner-pet bond is something we know that plays a big part in the development of obesity in an at-risk dog or cat. So it is not correct to try to identify a single factor, it is many little things that each play their part. The main point we need to emphasize is that, given the current prevalence, the vast majority of growing cats and dogs will be at risk of developing obesity. So what matters more is how we equip vets and owners to recognise the problem before it develops, and then provide tools to help them to manage that effectively.
Listen to Dr. Alex German's podcast: "Help! Is my dog obese?"