The old FAT is the new NORMAL
He was a large dog. Not large TALL. Or large LONG. But large AROUND. This was a Portuguese Water Dog and he was blatantly obese. I was at an off-leash park with a bunch of dogs and my instant reaction was that of disbelief when I encountered him. My jaw dropped and without thinking, I addressed the fluffy black blimp with, "oh, you POOR dog! You are SO FAT. Don't your parents like you?"
Okay, that was rude. Perhaps less rude when directed at the dog, who didn't understand my words and just looked at me, unmoving. It was clearly not easy for him to move; otherwise I think he would have sprinted towards me for some attention - he seemed like a nice enough dog. But he was too obese to be able to move the way he should be able to move. And he was not an old dog.
His owner (by all appearances physically fit herself), giggled and said, "he loves to eat!"
I love to eat, too. In fact, most living creatures love to eat. If we didn't eat, we would die. It's that hard-wired self-preservation thing. But I value life and my own health enough that I want to stay physically fit. It's my choice.
Dogs rely on OUR choices to stay fit.
We've all heard people say, "he's well-loved" when referring to a fat dog or cat. This statement is usually accompanied by a laugh or two. When did it become "cute" and "loving" to overfeed our companion animals? Do we get some kind of ego boost when we have fat animals? Since when is negligence a laughing matter? Yes, "negligence." Our companion animals rely on us and us alone to provide them with proper care, to keep them emotionally and physically healthy. They don't have the choices we have. Just as with humans, an overweight animal is at a greater risk for a multitude of health problems and those extra pounds will exacerbate existing issues. In fact, I'm not aware of any benefits to being overweight, yet there are endless benefits to being slim and trim.
Imagine the opposite scenario as the encounter with the obese dog: an underweight dog. We might gasp and look critically at his owner, thinking to yourself "negligence." Think again. Is that dog truly unhealthy or just plain fit? Sure, there's a tipping point where underweight becomes unhealthy, but at least in my travels in this area, it's rare to see a truly underweight dog (shelter dogs or newly adopted dogs may be the exception) but painfully too common to see the overweight pooch.
Interestingly, underweight can be advantageous according to much research on the subject. As an example, there was a study on women done in 1995 which concluded, "The lowest mortality rate was observed among women who weighed at least 15 percent less than the U.S. average for women of similar age…"
Under Great Britain's 2006 Animal Welfare Act, pet owners who allow their pets to become significantly overweight risk legal prosecution and fines. Imagine if that were the case here.
Allowing your companion animal to become overweight is irresponsible. Period. Unfortunately, many owners - and even veterinarians - don't know what optimal weight looks like anymore. We have been so desensitized to overweight in all familiar species that optimal now looks thin to us. We need to recalibrate this scale (no pun intended) and get educated. An overweight dog loses 2 years of his life.
Do you know what a fit dog looks like?
Is your dog fit? If you can say "yes" to all the below, kudos to you!
1. I can easily feel his ribs and between his ribs (much like the back of your hand feels);
2. When I look at him from above, his waist is easily discernible and I can see where his hip bones are.
3. When I look at him from the side, I can clearly see his abdominal tuck (there's a nice slope between his rib cage and hips)
It's all a matter of balancing the input and the output.
By the way, I didn't converse with the black blimp's owner after our brief encounter - I was afraid I'd continue to speak rudely to her dog. Just a few hours afterwards, I met with a client who had a young dog with severe bilateral hip issues; so severe that he got around by dragging himself. And he was round. Obese. I asked if he was free-fed (food available all the time). "Yes," she said, "but he only picks at it."