May 23, 2016
John Vomhof Jr.Staff Writer
Pack on a few extra pounds over the winter? Chances are Fido did, too.
More than half of all dogs and cats in the United States are overweight, according to a recent survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Even more alarming, 28 percent of cats and 18 percent of dogs are now classified as clinically obese, meaning they are at least 30 percent above ideal weight.
This obesity epidemic is keeping our furry, four-legged friends from living longer, healthier, better lives. But the warm weather makes this the perfect time to get more active and shed some of that extra weight — and pet activity trackers can help.
“Every dog in America needs some type of activity monitor, because I think it enhances their quality of life,” said Dr. Ernie Ward, a licensed veterinarian and the founder of APOP. “It helps us learn more about these wonderful creatures we share our homes with and helps us be better pet parents.”
Dr. Ward is also the author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter and founder of Project 25, an initiative aimed at extending the life expectancy of dogs and cats by 25 percent by 2025.
We chatted with him to learn more about how tech can help curb pet obesity.
How pet fitness trackers work
In recent years, the use of wearable devices for humans has soared, with an estimated 33 million Americans now using Fitbits and other wearable devices to track their activity levels and another 13 million people owning smartwatches. Some people use them to count their steps throughout the day as part of a weight-loss goal, while others, like Dr. Ward, use them to train for triathlons and Ironman events.
Now that same technology that has benefitted so many humans is transferring over to our pets. Fitness trackers and GPS devices from brands like FitBark and Whistle can provide you with tangible data on your pet’s health and fitness, which can then be used to make lifestyle changes.
That’s significant because our pets — like our children — rely on us to care for them. And, unfortunately, many pets are being fed too much and exercised too little.
“We have this false perception that our dogs and cats are staying active throughout the day while we’re at work or school or doing our life, but the reality is they’re not,” Dr. Ward said. “As soon as you close that door or pull out of your driveway, they’re taking a nap.”
Choosing the right device
First off, it’s important to determine your objectives so you can choose the right device for your pet. You don’t want to buy a device that won’t actually provide the information you’re looking for, and you don’t want to overpay for a bunch of features you’ll never use.
“Most pet owners are just interested in measuring basic activity — how far or how long did my dog walk today?” Dr. Ward said. “Did he exercise at all or did he just get 20 minutes when I walked him to go to the bathroom?”
There are three levels of activity monitors:
- A basic device operates similarly to a pedometer. This is the most economical option. They’re not particularly sensitive or accurate, but they’ll give you a general idea of your pet’s activity levels.
- A more sophisticated device would be combined with GPS tracking for increased accuracy and added protection in case your pet is lost.
- Advanced devices track biometrics, such as heart rate, respiration and body temperature, in addition to movement.
“Moving forward, I think these devices are going to evolve to include more and more sensitive biometrics, and that’s the exciting part,” Dr. Ward said. “Imagine if you could receive an alert if your dog’s heart rate is out of the normal range or your dog is panting at an excessive rate or your dog is becoming dehydrated or overheated. All of these things are becoming possible as we speak, and we’ll be talking about even more exciting developments by this time next year.”
Putting that data to use
Dr. Ward recommends activity trackers for every one of his pet patients that is on a weight-loss plan. That’s because he has found that pet owners who use the devices are more active with their pets.
”We call it the gamification of movement,” he said. “People want to get their dog moving so they can complete the circle or get the star.”
The best strategy is to plan regular structured activity for your pet, such as a daily walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the dog park. Whether that translates to weight loss largely depends on what and how much they’re being fed but, regardless, movement is essential for the pets’ overall well-being.
Layering on biometric data can take that a step further. Those metrics show not only how much your pet moved, but also what impact that had on his or her physiology — information that a veterinarian can use to help you tailor activities to maximize the health benefits for your pet.
“When I’m talking about obesity, I’m not talking about looking good in a bikini like we do for humans,” he said. “It’s really about quality of life.”
May is National Pet Month. Visit BestBuy.com to learn more about pet activity trackers and other tech products for your pets, including monitoring cameras, automatic feeders and GoPro accessories.