Looks Like the Pandemic Is Causing Our Pets To Gain Weight, Too
It’s no surprise pets are reaping the benefits of having their humans home more frequently due to the pandemic. More time at home together means more snuggles, playtime, and yes—even a few extra treats throughout the day.
But veterinarians say all those extra treats may be cause for concern as pet obesity rates rise. A recent survey from Hill’s Pet Nutrition released earlier this week says that one-third of pet owners report that their animals have gained weight during the pandemic—a finding that comes as no surprise to anyone who’s living on planet earth during the hellscape known as 2020.
As us humans continue to be stuck at home snacking our way through social isolation, it only makes sense that our best pals are right there with us at the treat jar. Guilty as charged!
It’s true: My dogs and I are exclusively spending time with Netflix and snacks, and it shows. Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., I was a regular at my favorite yoga studio and made the occasional visit to the gym. But now, the only yoga in my routine is the daily rotation of my trusty black yoga pants, which are just stretchy enough for me to make an increasing number of stops at the pantry without feeling the pinch. And if I’m having a cookie for breakfast (treat yourself, amiright?), you'd better believe my dogs are going to ask for a treat, too. We’re all in this together, so it's the least I can do since they're now stuck with me 24/7.
To be fair, not everyone has spent their year noshing on carbs and snuggled up on the couch. Some folks have used their time at home during the pandemic as an opportunity amp up their exercise routine and cook healthy meals. If you see life through rose-colored glasses (good for you), then you might be one of the optimistic folks among us who’ve actually improved your health habits over the last 10 months. My neighbors, bless their hearts, have turned their daily walks with their yellow Lab into impressive miles-long hikes and swear by the endorphins and fresh air. And while the same may have been true for me and my hounds when lockdown began in March, I’ll be the first to admit that we have fallen off the exercise wagon and into the warm embrace of comfort food since then.
Pets have been a source of great comfort and company to so many of us practicing social distancing from the safety of our homes. But let’s be honest, our furry friends aren’t the only thing helping us cope through the trauma of COVID-19 and the scroll of seemingly endless cycle of doomsday news reports. No, sir. The snack pantry has also been there for us all in unprecedented ways this year—both in the physical sense (my kitchen is approximately 15 steps from my home office), and the emotional one (there really is something therapeutic about baking a nice sourdough to help pass the time).
How to Keep Your Pet Healthy (and Still Snack)
The report states that since the beginning of COVID-19, one-third of pet parents with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic. Obesity in cats and dogs can lead to other health conditions like pancreatitis, heart disease, and diabetes. So while it’s totally reasonable for both humans and pets to turn to the treat jar for a little comfort throughout the day, there are a few ways to help ensure those frequent snack breaks with your fur baby don’t become a danger.
Try alternating high-calorie treats from the jar with something that has a little more nutritional value for your pet, like a small piece of carrot or a green bean. Hey, you can even share it with your pooch instead of going in for that third cookie! Another way to stretch out the snack jar is by breaking larger, soft treats into smaller pieces (Beggin’ Strips go a long way in our house).
There are also a few fun ways to boost your pet's activity levels, even if it happens from the comfort of the couch.
“Cats, like dogs, enjoy opportunities to smell and search. Try making a hide and seek game by littering treats inside old cardboard boxes that you stack up or close up, leaving only a few holes for treats to fall out from or for them to climb through. You can also build a fort out of couch cushions, hide treats in it, and let them search for those nummies," says Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT and Daily Paws' health and behavior editor.
"Dogs enjoy these same activities, too, and you can amp up the game for them by putting treats in plastic bottles that have a few holes in them and then hiding them somewhere in your house. Encourage your dog to search for the DIY toy and praise them when they find it.”
As for me, this report on overweight pets serves as a gentle reminder that humans aren’t the only ones dealing with the effects of the drastic shifts happening to our daily routines. I still try to walk my dogs regularly (I might be in hibernation but I’m not a monster!), but let’s be honest—this fur family isn’t going to be running any marathons together once we all come out of quarantine. That said, I plan to add a few extra blocks to our walks when weather permits, and utilize engagement activities like smell and search activities when we’re stuck indoors.
Even though my pups and I may need to loosen up our collars and belt respectively once we finally head back to our normal routines, that’s more than OK by me. Because if we’re able to come out of this relatively unscathed with a few more pounds to show for it, I’ll consider us all pretty lucky.