A rant about America’s fat pets

Obese canine from New Orleans
An obese dog in New Orleans. Source: Flickr, user mrtgt

This is my brief rant for the day. I just need to get it out of my system: I am disgusted by the number of FAT dogs and cats that I see on a daily basis.

Obesity is a well-known problem in America, but it’s spread beyond humans and now also afflicts our defenseless pets. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54 percent of American dogs and cats are overweight or obese. More than half. That’s disgusting. And wrong.

Many of the dogs that we receive at the SPCA are strays, but many are abandoned by their families. The interesting thing is that dogs who scavenged on the streets are often in better health than those who lived in cozy homes, because those surrendered dogs were grossly fattened up by their owners. The overweight dogs have many more severe health concerns than the homeless dogs who lived in alleyways. A few weeks ago, I was walking a fairly young border collie mix at the shelter who was extremely overweight. He was only five years old, but he could barely WALK because he was so fat. The dog was shaped like a blimp. It made me so angry. I wished I could have talked to his former owners face-to-face to give them a piece of my mind…

Obese Dog
An obese blue heeler mix. Source: Flickr, user mediamisfit

The other thing that makes me angry is when I am walking Bo, my friend Liz’s beautiful and healthy young golden retriever. Bo is a trim, healthy two-year-old and yet, when I walk him, people often stop me and say, “You need to feed your dog! He’s SO skinny!” This is offensive in a number of ways, but I manage to force myself to politely respond, “He’s actually a very healthy weight. But thanks anyway.” They look skeptical and keep walking. These people are so accustomed to seeing fat dogs that when they see a healthy one, they think he’s underweight! It’s unbelievable. And sad.

I believe that overfeeding our pets is morally wrong. This is why. Adult humans have the free will to eat whatever they want. You want to live exclusively on fast food, soft drinks, and Doritos? Go right ahead; it’s your right as a full-grown, (supposedly!) rational adult.

However, when our terrible eating habits are extended to our children and our pets, our “freedom” becomes a dangerous and life-threatening practice. We are actually endangering the lives of those who depend on us. Children and dogs do not have the ability to choose what they eat; we do. Therefore, we should be mindful of what we are feeding them. Your obese dog has an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease and you’ve likely knocked at least two years off of her lifespan. This is something to take very seriously. And yet I think an embarrassingly small number of people do. I guess it’s proof enough if you look around that most people do not take good care of their bodies. Why would they be inclined to take good care of their pets’ bodies, too?

Every dog’s needs are different, but the APOP website provides a list of healthy weight ranges for many dog breeds that could be a helpful resource. I wish this information was more widely disseminated to current and potential dog owners. One can keep hoping…

What are some ways that you keep your dog healthy? Have you ever had to put your dog on a diet? How did you do it?

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12 thoughts on “A rant about America’s fat pets

  1. We’ve now done both weight loss and weight gain diets. I can tell you which one takes effect faster…
    THe first time we had to do weight loss diets was when we got our second dog. We had been free feeding our Aussie and never had a problem with him eating more than he needed. But when a second dog was added to our home, both dogs started overeating (there was now competition). They gained weight very quickly and it took almost 5 years to get them back to where the vets wanted their weight. (Mind you, the weight the vets finally wanted them at was about 10lbs less than they originally told us they should be at.)
    Then again, this spring, we had to go on a weight loss diet with our beagle. When our Lab/Pit mix got sick, it took us a while to realize how little he was eating because our Beagle decided to help clear his plate. We were so stressed about his illness and dramatic weight loss that we didn’t really notice her weight gain.
    After we lost him and adopted our Fox Terrier, who needed to gain weight, we weighed the Beagle at the vet’s and were shocked by how pudgey she had gotten.
    The fox terrier is now at a healthy weight (you can see his ribs, but his hip bones don’t stick out a 1/2 inch from his rump) and the Beagle has lost weight, but could still stand to go down another pound or two.
    SO how do we do the diet? No free feeding. The dogs get fed once or twice a day. They get a measured amount of food based on their ideal weight and guidelines for losing/gaining.
    You have to make sure you account for any regular treats you give them, as well. We did a lot of carrots because they gave the dogs something to chew and have in their bellies but without really adding calories. The biggest problem comes when you have a breed like a Lab or a Beagle that is very food motivated and tend toward obesity. They are certain you are starving them and constantly looking for more food and treats.

    read about my dogs at http://lifebypets.blogspot.com

  2. We’ve now done both weight loss and weight gain diets. I can tell you which one takes effect faster…
    THe first time we had to do weight loss diets was when we got our second dog. We had been free feeding our Aussie and never had a problem with him eating more than he needed. But when a second dog was added to our home, both dogs started overeating (there was now competition). They gained weight very quickly and it took almost 5 years to get them back to where the vets wanted their weight. (Mind you, the weight the vets finally wanted them at was about 10lbs less than they originally told us they should be at.)
    Then again, this spring, we had to go on a weight loss diet with our beagle. When our Lab/Pit mix got sick, it took us a while to realize how little he was eating because our Beagle decided to help clear his plate. We were so stressed about his illness and dramatic weight loss that we didn’t really notice her weight gain.
    After we lost him and adopted our Fox Terrier, who needed to gain weight, we weighed the Beagle at the vet’s and were shocked by how pudgey she had gotten.
    The fox terrier is now at a healthy weight (you can see his ribs, but his hip bones don’t stick out a 1/2 inch from his rump) and the Beagle has lost weight, but could still stand to go down another pound or two.
    SO how do we do the diet? No free feeding. The dogs get fed once or twice a day. They get a measured amount of food based on their ideal weight and guidelines for losing/gaining.
    You have to make sure you account for any regular treats you give them, as well. We did a lot of carrots because they gave the dogs something to chew and have in their bellies but without really adding calories.
    The biggest problem comes when you have a breed like a Lab or a Beagle that is very food motivated and tend toward obesity. They are certain you are starving them and constantly looking for more food and treats.

    read about my dogs at http://lifebypets.blogspot.com

  3. I second the NO free feeding. you can’t tell how much your dog (s) are eating. I keep my dogs pretty slender and I am show in confirmation and sometimes do not win as my dogs look “thin” compared to some of the other show dogs. There is even a term called “show weight” which I refuse to put on my dog. Not worth a ribbon. I much rather have the extra years of healthy dog life.

    1. I think it depends on the dog. My last dog was a German Shorthaired Pointer/Australian Shepherd mix (looked more like the pointer) and we free fed him. He always maintained perfect weight for his breed, but then he was very active.

      1. I still stand by no free feeding, especially with more then one dog. harder to monitor how much and when your dog(s) are eating. I know a lot of people like to do it but I also have large dogs who are prone to bloat. I have to be sure they have not eaten right before exercise. or right after intensive exercise.
        Glad it works for you dog.

  4. Interestingly, Elka (my 28″, 71 lb Doberman) and I were at the vet today, and he said that she was at “a good weight”. I thought so as well, so this was pleasing, but then I also saw an article about a 203 pound Rottweiler, who was I think in England. So this is, in fact, not limited to America.

    Elka gets 3-ish cups of food a day (Taste of the Wild), and assorted treats while training and when I cook dinner. Though we have some commercial dog treats, these extras that she tends to get are vegetable bits, small bits of whatever meat I’ve got, etc. Even on days we don’t go out, for whatever reason, there’s playing ball in the back yard, and assorted rounds of tug o’ war (it’s her favorite game!).

    A fat Doberman is a sad thing (fat dogs in general are sad things), and even if I sometimes don’t make the best food choices for myself, I try to do well by my dog.

  5. Ugh! One of my biggest pet peeves among dog owners.

    Trying to tell someone their dog is fat is like trying to talk to a burnt lightbulb.

    One of the big problems is that now a days many a vet will not tell someone their dog is overweight. They fear losing a client and their money so they continue to tell them that Fido may be a little chubby but he’s far from fat. Yeah.. right…

    My doberman is fed home cooked food along with President’s Choice Nutrition First kibble. (mid range kibble)
    His home cooked meals include many a root veggie, and berry along with ground beef/lamb/chicken.
    I then mix it with the kibble and feed it twice a day.

    He is tall for his breed at 29″ and he weighs in between 92 – 95lbs give or take. He is VERY athletic which made putting weight on him so hard for the longest time. He hit 2.5yrs and suddnely bulked up a bit.

    I lucked out however with an honest vet who said he would rather my dobe be slightly underweight than me force fattening foods on him. =D

  6. What a great post…my uncles live out on a farm and have two chocolate lab boys. They are in great health and both very happy animals, however when most people see them, they think they’re too thin. And yes, this is because most people are accustomed to seeing dogs in the city who are under-walked and over-fed and are actually the ones who are unhealthy.

    Same thing goes for my dog, a rescue. He is a little on the thin side, but it’s offensive how many people make nasty comments when their own obese dog is struggling to keep up with them at the park. It’s hard not to bite back with a rude response!

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