New baby, fat pet? Why pets get pudgy after baby arrives

Barclay Barnes poses next to his new "sister" Margaret Claire. In the three months since Margaret was born, Barclay packed on five pounds.
Barclay Barnes poses next to his new "sister" Margaret Claire. In the three months since Margaret was born, Barclay packed on five pounds.Courtesy Phin and Carrie Barnes / Today

For almost three years, Barclay the bulldog was the baby of the house. He slept in bed with his owners, Phin and Carrie Barnes. Every afternoon at 4 p.m. Carrie would take him to the dog park near their Brooklyn home.

“Barclay would anticipate it and stand by the door,” she said. “We went rain or shine!”

On April 8, everything changed for dear Barclay. That’s the day Margaret Claire Barnes was born, and suddenly, mom and dad just couldn’t get out for the daily walk. But there were lots of visitors, with food. Lots of food.

At his last vet visit, Barclay tipped the scales at 60 pounds, up five pounds in three months. And Barnes’ vet told her to put her pudgy, three-year-old pooch on an exercise plan, stat.

Barclay’s battle of the bulge is all too common, particularly in families that have just added a human baby to the family. A new -- albeit unscientific -- study from pet supplement company Flexcin International shows that pet obesity grows in households with a new baby.

For their research, Flexcin analyzed six month’s worth of customer service calls, and found that new parents represented a third of all dog-joint health inquiries regarding overweight pets. Elderly pet owners were the second worst offenders, at 28 percent.

These pet owners were surprisingly forthcoming: 78 percent of new parents said their dog was free to nosh on food dropped from the baby’s high chair, and 65 percent admitted that they had less time for dog walks or didn’t feel comfortable bringing the dog during baby stroller walks.

Bruce Silverman, a veterinarian in Chicago, said his clients ‘fess up to their pet transgressions right away. “The pets aren’t getting their exercise, and their owners are giving them more treats because they feel guilty, and the baby’s throwing food down all the time. It’s pretty universal.”

Just like American humans, American pets are getting fatter: Over half are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). That extra weight can lead to high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and many forms of cancer.

So what can a well-meaning (but sleep-deprived) parent and pet owner do? First, talk to your vet about a target weight for your pet. (To get an idea, here’s a handy chart from APOP.) Then, get a handle on your pet’s diet. Your dog may be smart, but she’s not savvy enough to pop the top off a jar of baby food. “They get fed what they get fed,” said Silverman. Ask your vet about lower-calorie commercial pet food, and stick with regular, portion-controlled feedings.

If  the pup is making like a Hoover after baby’s feeding, make sure to wipe up after meals, or pick up a high chair food catcher, like this one from Wupzey. And for the love of Pete, stop feeding your furry babies from the table, said Silverman. “The vast majority of overweight pets are from families who love to feed them, and feed them off the table. And it’s the wrong food, like chicken breasts,” he said.

And finally: exercise. “Depending on who I’m talking to, and how they take it, I tell (my clients) that if your pet is overweight, you’re not getting enough exercise.” He recommends at least one half-hour walk per day, although two is better. “I think that’s reasonable,” he said. 

And if you really can’t get out of the house, consider outsourcing, at least until you’re able to take up the reins – uh, leash -- again. Barnes hired a dog-walking service to take Barclay out for 20 minutes a day.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to take the weight off,” she said. “Even in just a week, I’ve noticed a difference.”

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