Obesity still a top health threat to pets, nutritionist says
C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl ACVN, is a professor in the department of veterinary sciences at The Ohio State University, Columbus. He has conducted extensive research on the clinical nutrition of small-animal patients and the lower urinary tract disorders of cats. Here Dr. Buffington shares his thoughts on the indoor-cat initiative, nutrition issues facing pets, the difference between compliance and adherence, and future research endeavors.
DVM: What would you say are some of greatest nutrition issues facing pets today?
We should attempt to prevent obesity, because it's not so easy to treat. Our approach to therapy for obesity includes variable combinations of diet, activity, stress reduction and rehabilitation therapy.
DVM: How do you think we got to this place of rampant obesity among pets?
Buffington: It's probably not one factor. It's partly the result of the increasing complexity of life, which can be stressful to people and animals. When it's stressful for humans, it's stressful for animals. As kids, we all knew when our parents were having a fight; our animals know that, too. Additionally, there's an enormous amount of readily available, calorically dense food, and it's really hard keep these pets active. Many neighborhoods do not have good places to walk. It is difficult to find the time in many people's lives for activity. So I think every case is going to be a little different. Those are the general features contributing to this situation.
DVM: What's the indoor-cat initiative, and how does it impact the practice of veterinary medicine?
Buffington: Since the late 1970s or so, as people have moved into more urban environments and taken their cats and other animals with them, our animals are being exposed to different environments just like we are. That may call for different approaches to animal husbandry.
In the university practice here, for example, a number of owners didn't grow up around animals. They didn't have lots of animals as pets, so maybe they don't know as much about how animals behave as people who have had those experiences.
The cat initiative effort was designed to try to educate people on how to be a good animal owner. What do cats really need, and how can owners help meet those needs?