The obesity epidemic: It affects more than humans

I was walking my rescued Border collie Malee around the park when I heard those words that no girl ever wants to hear. “Now that girl is round,” said the young man in the park when we walked past him. I whisked my head around, prepared to respond the same way I did when I was younger and got cat calls walking through the streets of New York City. The guy realized I thought he was talking about me, immediately apologized and told me that he was referring to my dog. While I was relieved about not having to scold a kid about being rude to a woman, I still felt defensive that he called my puppy girl “round.” I was angry and somehow took his words personally. If only this guy knew that she was originally brought into the shelter as a stray with ribs showing. What if he knew that she was sick from dehydration and starvation and that I had spent hours hand feeding her to help her build up her strength? So many thoughts went through my mind as I huffed and stomped away.

When I went to work the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the boy had said. Ok, yes, Malee was a little round. But was that a problem? As I walked around the shelter, I also witnessed other animals that were a bit round. There was the dog in kennel 65. She was homeless because her person was too sick to care for her anymore. Clearly the past owner cared for her with treats and food. What about the husky mix in kennel 74 that came in as a stray. He is over 100 pounds, but should really be around 60 pounds. I also remembered the cat that came in months ago weighing over 30 pounds. We named him William H. Taft because of his girth.

Since Malee was overdue for her annual exam, I took her to the veterinarian and found out she had gained 11 pounds over the past year. Her body condition score was higher than it should be. Normal is between 4 and 6 and she was a 7.5.

I had heard of an epidemic of obesity in overweight people, but it’s important to note that we have the same problem with our pets. We did bloodwork on Malee to make sure there was no underlying problem, and luckily learned that her weight gain was because I was feeding her too much. We put her on a weight loss plan that included diet and exercise and off we went with our tail between our legs.

Obesity in animals causes similar problems as it does in people. We see heart disease, diabetes, strain on joints and other organs. Metabolic disorders caused from overeating and endocrine diseases caused from imbalances all put stress on an animal’s body and can decrease their life span.

Obesity in animals is often a result of free feeding, not following the feeding guidelines on the bag of pet food, and feeding “people food” to our pets. Most high-quality pet food is made specifically for pets, balancing the nutrients so that the animal is not getting too much of one item and not enough of another. You should follow the instructions on the label and minimize the extra treats. If you see any drastic changes like I did, make sure you consult with your veterinarian.

As part of my dog’s weight-loss plan, we will need to decrease food intake slowly as to not shock her system. This process is especially important in cats, as they can go into liver failure if you decrease food too quickly. Her special treats will move from store bought to healthy vegetables that are appropriate for dogs. Hopefully, when we come back from her wellness exam next year, we will both get a gold star for her progress. I encourage all pet parents to visit a veterinarian on a yearly basis for routine wellness care.

Also, please visit to see pictures and learn more about the dogs mentioned in this column (ID #’s A447547 & A447499). These dogs could really use a new family to give them the love they deserve.

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