It’s been a whole year since the last time I took Henry for a haircut. Michelle Holbrook didn’t even notice that her goofy toy poodle had soared from seven pounds to nine. Its cute curly hair not only successfully concealed its weight, but also made it difficult for the Holbrook family to refuse its request.
“Henry is naughty,” said Holbrooke, a Chicago medical researcher. “Every time I hear me open the cheese drawer in the refrigerator, it’s going to fly like an arrow.”
Seven-year-old Henry, like many other gluttonous pets, has gained a lot of weight in the past two years. While veterinarians and pet owners have mostly blamed the weight gain on bad habits they’ve developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, obesity has long been a problem for pets in the United States.
Banfield Pet Hospital, which operates more than 1,000 veterinary clinics in the U.S., found that in 2020, nearly 40 percent of cats and nearly 35 percent of dogs were diagnosed as overweight, up from less than 10 years ago 20%. In addition, Banfield Veterinary Hospital found that from March to December 2020, the initial phase of the outbreak, there was a slight increase in the number of dogs diagnosed as being overweight — an increase of about 2%.
“We’ve all been affected by the epidemic’s weight gain,” said Dr. Jennifer Bolser, chief clinical veterinarian at the Boulder Valley Animal Protection Society in Colorado. Pets, like humans, can suffer from things like overeating and gluttony. and bad habits of lack of exercise. When stuck at home with their pets, people find it easy to pamper them.
Psychologist Anthony Osuna said he and his partner used to take their little corgi, Pavlov, to beaches, malls and restaurants in Southern California. But after the outbreak, the six-year-old Pavlov lost all enthusiasm for going out and even walking.
“I think we’ve let the little guy down,” Osuna said. “Many people are digging into extra snacks, desserts, bubble tea and coffee in order to deal with the depression from the pandemic, which is causing a lot of people to gain weight. The same goes for pets. To please them, we buy them goodies and give them a snack.”
Pavlov’s weight rose from 23 pounds to around 28 pounds, and Osuna reduced his food supply and limited his snacks, such as his favorite popcorn.
“He doesn’t look particularly fat,” Osuna said. “However, with all the extra snacks and lack of exercise, it won’t take long for him to gain weight.”
John Irving is a retired contract manager in Boulder, Colorado. In total, he has owned more than 150 cats over the past decade. He said he had to exercise stricter control over Vita’s (one of the cats) diet. Until then, Owen had kept food out so that Weta and his sister Ginny could have it anytime. As a result, three-year-old Vita started overeating.
“He went from 15 pounds to 19 pounds very quickly—he was a giant cat all at once,” Owen said. “Of course, I’ve gained some weight during the pandemic, but it’s not about Vita.”
He carefully divided Vita’s cat food and put Ginny’s food on the table out of Vita’s reach. Vita was very dissatisfied with this. “It tried so hard to please me, to change my mind,” Owen said.
A survey of pet owners by a pet insurer called Pumpkin in partnership with a maker of smart dog collars found that more than 50 percent of dogs who gained weight during the pandemic were at the same time as their owners. Some people who gain weight gain weight even with increased physical activity. Numerous studies have also found that humans and dogs can reflect each other’s mood and stress levels.
Rachel Walker, from Los Angeles, said she was very upset when the pandemic first started. Later, she broke up with her lover, her then-boyfriend moved out, and the five-year-old dog, Bucky, was forced to separate from the “daddy” he lived with day and night.
“Every time I cry, Butch comes and licks my face and rubs against me,” Walker said. “It’s amazing how a little creature can have such a strong instinct.”
But when she saw Butch urinating on the furniture, she realized that the little guy was actually anxious too. She felt that Butch was doing it on purpose because it had never done it before.
To help Weta lose weight, Owen carefully controlled her food intake.
During the epidemic, Butch’s weight quickly increased by 10 pounds, and his temperament became different.
Potential stress, extra bone marrow snacks and table scraps may have contributed to Butch’s rapid 10-pound weight gain, Walker said. Bucky, a border collie and golden retriever mix, is shaggy and now weighs about 45 pounds.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety displayed by dogs vary. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that more than 80 percent of dog owners believed that their dogs displayed signs of emotional eating or stressful eating behaviors when they were “unhappy.”
As pet owners gradually return to their pre-pandemic normal lives, pets may also develop other areas of anxiety. Holbrook’s toy poodle, Henry, for example, developed separation anxiety when his owner went to work. Others have lost the ability to interact healthily with other animals and people due to lack of socialization during the pandemic.
Walker said Bucky used to be calm, but now he becomes possessive whenever other dogs try to greet her. However, when Walker started taking Butch on hikes to lose weight, she found that Butch gradually became more willing to meet other dogs and start playing with them.
But when it comes to losing weight, Dr. Bolser said, like humans, pets are harder to lose weight than gain. Taking more walks does not offset the negative effects of gluttony.
Dr. Preti Malani, the University of Michigan’s chief health officer and infectious disease expert, who adopted an English Labrador during the pandemic, was surprised at how difficult it was to change some of the dog’s grotesque behaviors, such as breaking in. Entering a neighbor’s house and stealing dog food, and finding the pizza crust discarded by students on campus by smell.
“It’s like a vacuum cleaner,” Dr. Malani said of her puppy, Sally. To keep Sally at a healthy weight, not only did she refuse treats other than fruit and vegetables, she sent it to a dog daycare. That way, Sally maintains her normal social and physical activity when she’s away from home for work.
Owners should have a plan for their pet’s long-term health, Dr. Bolser added: “During a pandemic, we have to be more thoughtful. Starting with obesity prevention will help prevent and reduce many other health problems.”
So when Holbrook and her husband took Henry to the vet and realized that his weight was soaring, they knew right away which habits needed to be adjusted.
“I find that my husband routinely puts five wheat hoops in Henry’s bowl every morning—because he thinks it’s fun. But now, he doesn’t put as many,” Holbrook said. ” I told him it couldn’t be done anymore, Henry was spoiled.”