Your Money: Your pet is obese, but you pay the price

Send a link to a friend  Share

[January 18, 2017]  By Reyna Gobel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Keezley, a 5-year-old Samoyed dog, is always searching for food in her house - stealing loaves of bread off counters and even getting into her cat sibling's litter box.

Keezley's habits have added 20 pounds to her 50-pound frame, and serious weight to owner Susi Sweeny's wallet.

Even just 10 pounds overweight would have put Keezley at risk for joint issues and diabetes, which are costly to treat because they require frequent vet visits, medications, special diets and exercise regimes. Treatment for diabetes averaged $1,000 per claim in 2015, according to Adam Dell, spokesperson for Nationwide pet insurance.

That is a fraction of the cost of the 1.3 million obesity-related claims that Nationwide pet insurance processed in 2015, and an even smaller fraction of overall costs in the United States, considering the entire pet insurance industry and the millions of pets with no insurance.

The easiest way for pet owners to avoid the costs of complications from obesity is to keep their furry friends from becoming overweight. What owners can do varies greatly between dogs and cats, and so do the costs.


For felines, restricting calories without veterinary supervision can send them into liver failure, said Dr. Carol McConnell, chief veterinary medical officer for Nationwide. This is because cat ancestors were solitary hunters for insects, mice and other small animal prey and their systems were designed to eat constantly.

So cat owner Jeanne Gregory has tried just about everything to get her 40-pound Maine Coon Tabby, named My Big Kitty, to exercise. The cat did not take to chasing a laser, instead lying on the floor and swatting the light with her paw. Walks failed, too, because My Big Kitty did not take well to being on a leash.

Now, Gregory is trying a $3 cat toy her vet recommended that she can stuff with dry cat food. It can take 45 minutes of moving the ball around for all the kibble to pop out. Also, since the cat follows her around her condo, Gregory is walking around the house a lot more.


You can restrict calories for your dog without anything severe happening to your dog, said McConnell. Dog ancestors hunted in packs for large animal prey and then feasted together, and they went a long time in the wild between meals.

Sounds like a cost savings, but pet owners may end up spending more because cutting calories is not always just a matter of giving a dog less food.

[to top of second column]

Keezley, a 5-year-old Samoyed at agility training in this undated handout photo. Susi Sweeny via REUTERS

To solve hunger issues, many owners choose specialty dog foods that are high in fiber, said Dr. Jennifer Larsen, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital. They cost at least double the price of standard dog foods.

Diet food is also available at veterinarian offices, and administered under the vet's care to avoid any complications. This also adds up.

"We paid about $180 per month for her diet dog food, which is double what we pay for Honest Kitchen," said Sweeny. She also switched to natural treats of apples, vegetables and dried chicken.

Increasing exercise can also carry a price tag. Obese dogs may have arthritis and other painful health issues that need to be treated, said McConnell, resulting in more vet visits and medication.

Some pet owners opt for exercise classes, which can cost $20 a pop. Sweeny tried that for Keezley, because she was already taking long walks to no avail. But Keezley still did not lose weight from agility classes, at $80 a month.

"She would stop after just four obstacles and expect a treat," Sweeny said.

As an alternate, Sweeny tried to harness Keezley’s Alaska roots and have her pull a weighted saucer sled she picked up for about $10. Keezley just look at her puzzled.

Finally, Sweeny found a workout her dog loved called "barn hunt" for the same price as agility classes. She has not needed treats because Keezley likes climbing hay bales to find rats in dog-proof containers.

The result is 8 pounds of weight loss, at a grand total cost of $2,800. But Sweeny is happy with the lesson learned: the cheapest problems are the ones you avoid.

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his/her own.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)

[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Back to top