Your Money: Your pet is
obese, but you pay the price
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[January 18, 2017]
By Reyna Gobel
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.
THE CAT DIET
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.
A DOG'S BUSY LIFE
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
[to top of second column]
Keezley, a 5-year-old Samoyed at agility training in this undated
handout photo. Susi Sweeny via REUTERS
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.
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
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
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his/her own.)
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)
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