In general, when we talk about people as being either skinny or fat; often the term skinny is used as offhanded compliment that may denote a touch of envy, whereas the term fat is often meant as an insult. But when those same terms are applied to our dogs, we tend to reverse the two. While having a dog that is overweight may be recognized by others as not being healthy for the dog, it presents the appearance that you care for your dog and are just a little overzealous in the dog’s feeding. On the other hand, if our dog is described as being skinny or underweight, it feels like we are being accused of being neglectful and that we are not caring for our dogs like we should.
It is an unfortunate fact, that like us, many of our dogs have become overweight or obese. According to a 2008 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 44% of dogs and 57% of cats are considered to be overweight or obese. Yet despite the fact that having a dog or cat that is slightly underweight adds years to their life over one that is slightly overweight, the trend towards obesity continues.
My wife Jackie and I have lived with dogs on both sides of the scales. Our late Australian Shepherd, Sundown, weighed close to 75lbs when she died at the ripe old age of sixteen and a half. While that is within the upper range of years for an Aussie, she might have had another year or more if we had done a better job of managing her weight. Losing her was one of the saddest moments of our lives and we would give almost anything to be able to go back and take better care of her. By giving her less, we all could have received so much more. Yet most of the comments we got about Sundown’s weight smacked of praise of our care for her. She looked “well cared for”, “you can tell she’s loved”, and similar comments were made. Even though those comments might have been veiled attempts to let us know that she was too heavy, they made us feel like good dog people for caring so much.
After Sundown died, both my wife and I talked about the mistakes we made with her and promised each other that we would not allow the same things to happen again. As a result our dogs, Gavin, and Annie, are very healthy, but we tend to keep them on the lighter side of their weight ranges. Even though our vet finds them both to be of a very healthy weight, the comments we receive about them from some dog owners’ smack of disapproval, especially for Annie, “she’s so skinny”, and “is she sick” are comments that we’ve heard before even though both dogs are well within their accepted weight ranges.
So when it comes to the adjectives used to describe your dog’s weight, remember that less is really more. Don’t make your dog carry around the weight of human vanity.
A collection of articles from the American Veterinary Medical Association, ranging from the benefits of diet restriction to the prevalence of obesity in dogs with cancer can be found here. More helpful information can also be found at the website of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, or by speaking with your veterinarian or a qualified trainer.
If you know of more resources that should be added to this article please let us know. As always comments are welcomed and appreciated.
Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha