U.S. Obesity Epidemic Hits Pets, Too

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Brian Unger is worried about the epidemic of obesity in the United States. In today's Unger Report, he notes that it's not just Americans who are getting fatter — it's also their four-legged furry companions.


In today's Unger Report, obesity. It's not just for people anymore. With more, much more, here's Brian Unger.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

Experts put the number of obese dogs at about 25 percent of the U.S. canine population, and with dog obesity on the rise, so too is the rate of dog diabetes. What are people feeding their dogs and cats that's making them so fat and sick? Gossip columnist Cindy Adams, shopping her new book, Living a Dog's Life, on NBC's Today Show, gave me a hunch.

Ms. CINDY ADAMS (Gossip columnist, NBC's The Today Show): I used to lay on the floor and hand-feed them with kosher chickens from La Cirque.

UNGER: Adams' dog Jazzy died in a kennel, presumably not from all that high-grade chicken, but I've noticed other people feeding their dogs table scraps. Men, next time you're on a dinner date, notice how women take home more food for their dog than they eat themselves. If you're lucky to get past her front door, look at how chunky her dog is as it gobbles up spaghetti and meatballs.

I often think to myself, wow, her dog's really fat. Just think it. Don't say it. Now, beyond table scraps, store-bought dog food is nearly impossible to distinguish from human food. It looks and sounds delicious. Take it from America's favorite dad from the hit TV series, Eight is Enough.

Mr. DICK VAN PATTON (Actor): Hi, I'm Dick Van Patton here at the beautiful San Diego Zoo, and I'm so proud that these magnificent animals are being fed my Natural Balance, through logical formulas. All my formulas are developed by top veterinarians and nutritionists, and are based only on the dietary needs of the animals. I believe Natural Balance manufactures the finest formulas available today.

UNGER: We knew Van Patton could feed eight mischievous, lovable kids on TV, but who knew he was feeding the cheetahs and polar bears at the San Diego Zoo?

Mr. VAN PATTON: And just think what my Natural Balance dog and cat food can do for your pets?

UNGER: Listen to this menu for your dog, right from Dick's Web site: hearty Irish stew, Chinese takeout with sauce, hobo chili for home or when you're on the go, and southern-style dumplings with gravy for a down-home taste your dog will love. Never mind fashioning dog food in the image of a homeless man, riding the rails or a soul-food restaurant in east Little Rock. I'm beginning to think we're selling dog food to people. These eatables are so appetizing, says Van Patton, you won't be able to tell the difference between dog food and a home-cooked meal.

We may have gotten too darned good at making dog food. In fact, a sleep-eater hopped up on Ambien would be hard-pressed to taste anything strange in these mouth-watering items: Dreyer's sugar-free ice cream bars for dogs called Frosty Paws, Nestles' prepared stews that come in a Tupperware-like container, or Iams five kinds of savory sauce, roasted turkey, pot roast beef, sizzling bacon, and that old dog favorite, country-style chicken. Good old American know-how.

It hasn't quite fooled people into eating dog food, but it suggests this: to prevent dog obesity, don't grocery shop when you're hungry.

And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

CHADWICK: The Unger Report is available as a podcast. To learn more, go to our Web site--that's NPR.org, and you'll find ways to get lots of other NPR podcasts there, too.

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