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    Tackling Pet Obesity

    Grocers should leverage opportunities for animal wellness.

    By Kathleen Furore
    PEAK CONDITIONPurina’s Body Condition System chart enables pet owners to see what their pets’ optimal weights should be.

    Grocers offer a plethora of products touting the ability to help customers manage their weight. But how many retailers have considered adding more weight control products in the pet food aisle? A look at recent statistics on pet obesity shows why that would be a profitable move.

    According to an October 2013 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 52.6 percent of dogs and 57.6 percent of cats are overweight or obese. The Washington, N.Y.-based North Shore Animal League America, the world?s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, has even called pet obesity an epidemic in the United States.

    A Profound Impact on Health

    The damage extra pounds can do to pets is similar to what they can do to people. Dogs, for example, can experience breathing, heart and orthopedic problems, among a litany of other health issues.

    ?Among all diseases that perplex the veterinary community and plague our population of pets, obesity has the greatest collective negative impact on pet health,? says Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of APOP.

    The good news, as Ward notes, is that obesity in pets ?is almost completely avoidable??something a landmark Purina study on lifetime canine diet restriction shows.

    In the 14-year study, conducted at the Purina Pet Care Center in Missouri, 48 Labrador Retrievers were paired within their litters according to gender and body weight, and then randomly assigned to a control or lean-fed group. On average, the lean-fed group weighed less, had lower body fat and, after a certain age, experienced a two-year delay in the loss of lean body mass as they aged, compared with the control group dogs.

    ?Median life span was increased by 1.8 years, or 15 percent, in the lean-fed dogs, compared to the control dogs. Median life span ? the age at which 50 percent of the dogs in the group had died ? was 11.2 years in the control group, compared to 13.0 years in the lean-fed group,? information from St. Louis-based Purina says.

    In response to such findings, pet food companies are stepping up with products designed to help pets maintain an ideal body weight. Purina, for example, offers myriad products that fit into this segment, including Purina Cat Chow Healthy Weight, Purina Dog Chow Light & Healthy Brand Adult Dog Food, and Purina One SmartBlend Healthy Weight Formula Dog Food, the last of which contains 25 percent less fat and 15 percent fewer calories than the company?s SmartBlend Lamb & Rice formula.

    Kibbles ?n Bits, a brand of San Francisco-based Big Heart Pet Brands, offers Weight Maintenance Roasted Chicken & Vegetable Flavor dog food, and Iams, manufactured by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, has a lineup that includes ProActive Health Adult Weight Control dog and cat food ?with fat-burning L-Carnitine that helps turn fat into energy?; Iams Healthy Naturals Weight Management dog food with Chicken, which has 10 percent less fat than Iams Healthy Naturals Chicken + Barley Recipe; and Iams Indoor Weight Control & Hairball Care cat food, which offers L-Carnitine plus a ?targeted fiber system? that ?minimizes hairballs.?

    Opportunities for Grocery Retailers

    Getting customers to consider grocers destinations for pet food, and for weight maintenance and weight control pet foods in particular, can be challenging, especially since APOP says most pet owners don?t recognize when their pet is overweight. According to the survey, among all owners whose pets were ultimately classified as obese by veterinarians, 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners ?initially thought their pet was in the normal weight range.?

    Distributing information about pet health in general, and pet obesity in particular, is a good place to start.

    This past October, for example, Texas-based H-E-B teamed with Vanguard Veterinary Associates to bring affordable vaccinations and preventive health care events to stores in the grocer?s and Vanguard?s hometown of San Antonio, as well as Austin, Houston and other Lone Star State towns. Customers who stopped by the event received information on a variety of health care-related pet topics, in addition to free samples of H-E-B pet products.

    Providing pet health tips in-store ? either during a special event or as a handout in the pet food aisle ? is another way to get customers seeking pet food options for overweight pets to consider the supermarket. The North Shore Animal League America shares the following suggestions that grocers can pass along to their shoppers:

    • ? Have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian to develop a plan for healthy living. Unchecked obesity in pets can lead to debilitating diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
    • ? Avoid feeding snacks and table scraps to your cat or dog. Although satisfying, unhealthy snacking can pack on unnecessary pounds.
    • ? Exercise with your pet. Whether you?re running an errand or going for a jog, take your dog with you. Exercise is essential to your pet?s health, as it increases strength and longevity.
    • ? Make sure your pet?s bowl is filled with clean, clear water on a daily basis. Water is key for digesting food and will help your pet?s body absorb important nutrients.
    • ? Feed on a schedule. Avoid accidental overfeeding by sticking to your pet?s recommended daily feeding guide.
    • ? Keep pets in another room while preparing and cooking your own meals.
    • ? Make sure additional food isn?t just lying around. It?ll only encourage your pet to eat more than his/her daily diet recommends.
    • ? If you?re going away, make sure to leave clear diet/feeding instructions with the person who?ll be looking after your pet.
    • ? If you have more than one pet, feed them separately.
    • ? When purchasing pet food, look for the words ?complete and balanced nutrition? on the label. Consult with your veterinarian for more information regarding your pet?s specific diet.
    By Kathleen Furore
    • About Kathleen Furore

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