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Most of us have pets and we spend the money and time to take care of them. Even if a heck of a lot of them—like us—are too fat.
We all love to tell pet stories, because just about all of us have had pets. The stories are often funny, heart-warming, human. They tell of our love and devotion to another species, one we house and feed, exercise, teach tricks and pay large sums of money to care for medically.
Pets are expensive and often require as much time and attention as small children, but that doesn’t deter us. Our pets often reflect who we are: sleek and upscale, scruffy, overweight, lazy, athletic, healthy, sickly, neurotic, angry, intelligent and sweet.
There is no doubt we love them.
The American Veterinary Medical Association tells us that dogs and cats are the most popular pets in the U.S. with more dog than cat households, but more cats than dogs in total (74 million-70 million). U.S. households average 2.1 cats, 1.6 dogs. Recent surveys show that young adults are driving an increase (about 3 percent) in dog and cat ownership.
Americans adore all manner of pets. A recent survey by the AVMA came up with 57 million fish; 2 million turtles, more than a million hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes (yep) and lizards and 12 million birds of various descriptions. We own 3 million rabbits.
Dr. Mark Freeman, a vet at the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, says, “Probably the most common mistake people make when acquiring a new pet, is not considering how well the pet will fit into [the owners’] lifestyle, especially if they are considering starting with a young pet.
“Many people make a decision based on the pet’s appearance or the breed’s reputation, without giving careful thought to what the pet’s needs may be as it grows older. …It is important to research the breed, and what it takes to keep [the pet] healthy and happy. … The internet provides access to a wealth of information about various breeds, but there is also a great deal of misinformation circulating. Be sure you are getting your information from a reputable source.”
Feeding dogs can be tricky because not all dog food is equal. In fact, some of it is harmful. Food is controlled by the government, but those regulations don’t always work, critics tell us. What’s in the food is just as important for your pup, Skippy, as it is for your son, Junior. Ingredients are listed on the bag and the graphic on page 26 tells you what to look for.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that more than half of American dogs are chubby and nearly 60 percent of cats tip the scales a smidge high, but apparently their owners don’t recognize a fat butt when they see one, even on a Schnauzer. Research by the APOP says, “93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners thought their pet was in the normal weight range.”
You might also note that contributing to the heft and sometimes the uneven health of the animals is the simple fact that “70 percent of the dog owners they surveyed did not know all the ingredients in their dogs’ food,” according to a survey by reviews.com.
Freeman adds a hopeful note: “Happily, it is not at all difficult to raise a healthy pet. …We now have the ability to address nearly any health problem a pet may develop. More importantly, we have the knowledge to provide preventive care in order to avoid most health problems.”
However—and this is a big however—“Nothing in life is free, and good veterinary care for a pet is no exception. Planning for a pet means planning for the costs associated with one. … Costs of pet ownership vary considerably, but on average … you can expect to spend approximately $2,000 per year for the typical pet.” For a healthy pet, that can equate to $25,000 over a lifetime—barring a serious health problem, which can shoot the cost through the roof.