Obesity Epidemic Spreading to Dogs

A sunny afternoon in late winter, no dogs to enjoy a game of fetch on the snow covered field, where dogs can run off leash, in historic Washington Park in Albany, NY

On another late winter day, on the same field (snowless) puppy named Stella (a pit bull & lab mix) running off-leash finds a friendly human to greet: no food treats required for friendly human interaction

Jane K. Brody’s Personal Health column in the New York Times recently spotlighted the news that nearly half the dogs veterinarians see are overweight or obese in That Furry Friend May Need to Be on a Diet (2/5/19). Why is this?

Michael Pollan in his Food Rules, an Eater’s Manual, now available in paperback, provides the roots for the answer in the final section of his “rulebook” (which is full of humor and good cheer and vital advice) on “How” to eat. In this final section, he discusses the human relationship to food which clearly has had an impact on how humans feed their dogs. Pollan’s Rule 55 (one of 83 total rules in this reader-friendly book and one particularly worthy of mindfulness) states in its meaty conciseness: Stop eating before you’re full.

In explaining this rule, Pollan notes the French paradox: A population that eats all sorts of supposedly lethal fatty foods, and washes them down with red wine . . . is nevertheless healthier, slimmer, and slightly longer lived than we are.

It is the traditional French relationship to food which explains the paradox. They seldom snack, eat small portions from small plates, don’t go back for second helpings, and eat most of their food at long, leisurely meals shared with other people. In French, to say “I’m hungry” is J’ai faim, and when you are finished, you do not say that you are full, but Je n’ai plus faim, I have no more hunger.

In an article, The Overweight Pet, on the website petmd.com, the four typical settings encountered by veterinarians when presented with a dog that is overweight suggests the relevancy of Pollan’s Rule 55: (1) The Nibbler, a dog that has food out for him/her all day and nibbles a little at a time; (2) The Beggar, using food to reward and not to satisfy hunger; (3) The Good Dog, where an owner expresses affection by focusing on feeding (which prompts the excellent advice to show affection by thinking Fetch, not Food); and (4) The Gourmet Dog which is eating for taste, which does not always equate with good nutrition. In sum, in feeding a dog, the focus should be on relieving the dog’s hunger.

A closing note: Ted Kerasote’s Pukka’s Promise, The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, now available in paperback, and reviewed here a few years ago, includes nearly 70 pages focused on improving a dog’s diet, and is highly recommended.

(Frank W. Barrie, 3/1/18)

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