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A couple of months ago, I attended an event with a friend, and we spent the day commenting on the number of overweight dogs walking by our booth. After six hours, I remember five healthy dogs, the rest were overweight, and most were obese. It was painful watching dogs waddling their way around and given what I know about dog health and nutrition; I cringed at what that excess weight was doing to their bodies.
But I said nothing because we live in an age of shaming that has made everyone defensive and I haven’t figured out a way to politely tell someone that their dog is fat and this is unhealthy.
In a recent survey, it was found that 41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online, and an even larger share (66%) has witnessed these behaviors directed at others. (1) I’m willing to bet that the percentages are much higher. We see it every day when someone posts an opinion, and someone else disagrees. The topic doesn't matter; we’ve become a society of people who spend the day aggressively sharing our opinions. It’s no wonder that we’ve become uber sensitive when it comes to online critiques. Even if someone has the best of intentions, their feedback is received in a cloud of sarcasm, bullying, and insensitivity.
What is Fat Shaming?
According to Google, Fat Shaming is “the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size.” Given this definition, have we really seen fat shaming in the dog lover community or are we just being overly sensitive?
The first time I remember someone engaging in what I labeled as fat shaming, they were using the fact that a friend had a fat dog to prove that he wasn’t qualified to educate people about feeding a species appropriate diet. He wasn’t offended, but I was offended on my friend’s behalf. Why? Because I had TWO fat dogs. Sydney and Zoey were overweight and I was having a helluva time getting them to trim down. Instead of asking for help, I became defensive because I took every mention of my fat dogs as a judgment of my dog parenting skills. Let’s be real; my dogs weren’t fat because they were sneaking midnight snacks. Their weight was all on me.
American Dogs and Cats are Overweight
In 2017, CBS News reported that 33% of dogs and cats in America were overweight. (2) This isn’t groundbreaking news given the fact that over 70% of Americans were overweight, with nearly 40% being qualified as obese in 2016. (3) We live in a nation of poor food choices and lack of exercise, so it’s not surprising that this extends to our pets too. Also, 96% of pet parents are feeding their dogs and cats a diet that doesn't necessarily support a slim physique.
The Long-Term Effects of Obesity in Dogs
When Sydney tore her cruciate, her weight slowed her healing and contributed to many setbacks over the years. Today, at 8-1/2 years old, she has lost nearly 10 pounds, and I’m very careful about her diet because she has arthritis and that additional weight makes mobility a challenge.
But mobility challenges aren’t all that overweight dogs can look forward to in life. What pushed me to help Sydney lose weight was when she could barely walk on her two rear legs, and I was looking at the possibility of losing my girl. That’s when I began to take her weight, and the long list of health issues that were in her future, seriously.
Overweight and obese dogs may suffer…
- Continued joint issues
- Difficulty breathing
- Exercise intolerance
- Liver disease
- Decreased immune system functions
- Difficulty with anesthesia
- High blood pressure
- Heat intolerance
These things scared the hell out of me, along with the idea of the veterinarian bills that accompanied each health condition. And I could avoid all of this by helping my girl trim down. So I tried, and I failed again and again. I kept taking my girl to the vet for a weigh in to see that she only lost ½ a pound or she gained a pound.
Fat Shaming vs. Informing
I was frustrated and feeling discouraged. I knew my dog was fat and I did everything people told me to do. I cut back her meal servings, but she’d get hunger pukes. So I added green beans so that she felt full, but she wasn’t losing weight. I took her for walks, but then she’d be in so much pain the next day, and it took longer to recover. I even had her tested for hypothyroidism – TWICE; the tests came back negative both times. I thought I had done everything and was ready to accept that Sydney would just be a big girl, and then I received the following message before being unfriended.
“I've seen pictures of them over the years and yes they are all overweight. Vets tell hundreds of overweight pet owners daily that their dogs are not overweight.
I do not think telling someone their dog is overweight is rude, at all. I thought I was pretty polite with my first comment honestly. I cannot understand why people take being told their dog is overweight as a personal attack….I've been told my dog was fat before, and I said: “oh shit, I should make him lose a few” and so I did. I didn't take it personally. I adjusted myself for the well being of my dog because he is what matters the most. Not my own feelings.
I can't keep looking at the constant posts full of misinformation and denial and I figured now was a good time to just remove myself from the situation. We will obviously never agree with how to care for our animals.”
I was shocked, hurt, and pissed off! I wanted to reply…
- “Rodrigo isn’t fat!!!!”
- “Scout isn’t fat!!!!”
- “I’m not a bad person!!!!”
- “I love my dogs!!!!”
- “WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME??????????”
The message shook me to the core. If you live with anxiety and depression, then you get what this is like. These types of discussions are frustrating. She wasn’t hearing me. She wasn’t helping me. She was just telling me that my dogs were fat. And all I was hearing was that “you suck at raising dogs and I don’t like you.”
But arguing with someone online wasn't going to help Sydney. So, instead of trying to change this person's mind, I took advantage of an opportunity presented to me. Ronny LeJeune of Perfectly Rawsome offered to help me and thanks to her advice, Sydney has lost nearly 10 pounds in six months. My dog is more active, her mobility has improved, and you can tell that she’s happier and feeling better. Zoey has also lost nearly 10 pounds too.
At the time, the words in that message stung like a bitch, but looking at them today, I see that she was spot on and this is why I’m writing about this topic today.
When did telling someone that their dog is overweight become rude?
Is it Fat Shaming if Your Dog is Fat?
There are people who won’t post pictures of their dogs on Facebook because they don’t want to be attacked for having a fat dog. I used to empathize with these stories because I would obsess over pictures of Sydney before posting them because I knew that people would make comments that I perceived as unkind and judgmental.
Instead of swallowing my pride and responding to these comments with “what can I do?” I would become defensive and run away from the discussion. Granted, not everyone is able or willing to give you constructive advice, but there are people who want to help. The majority of people do want to help – we just need to accept their help.
This experience was the first one that showed me that I had to stop being offended by the feedback of others on social media. Especially when it comes to my dogs’ health and diet. There are some nasty, mean people on Facebook, but most people are kind and helpful. The lack of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can create conflict where there is no conflict. So I’m learning to ignore what I may perceive to be nasty and look for the useful information that will help my dogs live a longer, healthier life.
5 Ways to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
The following is a list of steps I took that helped me trim my girls down after years of no success:
1 – We walked every day at their pace rather than pushing them to walk further for longer. Sometimes our walks were 20-30 minutes; sometimes they were only 10 minutes.
2 – Our property has hills, so we walked up and down hills when Sydney was ready to intensify the exercise a few days a week, allowing rest days for muscle recovery. Supporting Sydney and Zoey's joint health has been important during this time so they each receive joint support.
3 – My dogs are fed a species appropriate diet of raw dog food which supports a healthy weight for dogs and cats. Although I followed the guidance of a raw food calculator, I found that I was feeding my dogs too much. I reduced the amount of food I was feeding to all of my dogs. Sydney and Zoey eat nearly half of what I was feeding them.
4 – I added fermented vegetables to their diet, choosing low glycemic vegetables like leafy greens, green beans, cabbage, and garlic. Adding this healthy dose of natural probiotics to my dogs' diet helped to support a healthier gut that better digests food and absorb nutrients.
5 – I began fasting my dogs once a week by feeding them a larger meal Friday evenings, bone broth or raw goat's milk Saturday morning, and a regular meal Saturday evening. I was nervous about doing this given Sydney's history of hunger pukes (which she hasn't experienced in more than six months), but the fasting was effortless.
Take the Pet Obesity Survey
October is National Pet Obesity Awareness Month! I and many other pet parents received an email from Dr. Ernie Ward (the vet who famously sat in a car during a hot day) asking for us to complete a brief, anonymous survey about pet obesity and nutrition. The survey doesn't take long, and the information will help us better understand the trend in pet health and nutrition. The video above reveals the results of last year's survey.
CLICK THIS LINK https://www.surveymonkey.
(1) PewInternet.org http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017/
(2) CBSNews.com https://www.cbsnews.com/news/american-pets-getting-fatter-study-finds/
(3) CDC.gov https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm