"Your dog is incredibly fat!" say strangers. How pets, ranging from cats to gerbils, are forced to eat
George, the overweight pomeranian visits Buckingham Palace. Photograph: @littlefatcockney/Instagram
Your dog is incredibly fat! say strangers. How pets, ranging from cats to gerbils, are forced to eat
Overweight pets have become more common in recent years, according to 78 percent of veterinarians, and lockout has only exacerbated the problem. Is it possible that social media's preoccupation with chubby cats and pudgy dogs is to blame?
Chocolate labrador, eight years old Blue has a slow, ponderous pace and is formed like a barrel. His tummy hangs low, skimming the ground, with fat rolls bulging from his collar. A jowly face is framed by mournful eyes. Blue is on a diet, and he despises every moment of it. There will be no more succulent rabbit ears or plump chicken feet. He stole some cake from the kitchen floor earlier in the week, but his owner, Mary, retrieved it before he could eat it.
As Blue thumps on the scales at the Pet Health and Therapy Centre in Welling, south-east London, Mary* complains, I dread this bit. It reminds me of Weight Watchers. Blue should not weigh more than 36 kilograms. The scales squeak: 47.1 kg. He's gone up again, laments Mary, who has asked to remain anonymous due to her embarrassment. My kid and daughter are both quite thin, she continues, pleadingly. People believe I deprive my kids while overfeeding my animals.
Blue is arthritic, and walking causes him agony. He will most likely die early if he does not lose weight.
Blue is on a calorie-controlled diet and is routinely walked, according to Mary, a 39-year-old dog walker from Mottingham, south-east London. She pulls up her phone to show me photographs of Blue looming over her clients' dogs and exclaims, He goes on walks all the time! Members of the public occasionally approach Mary at work and tell her that she needs to inform Blue's owner that he needs to lose weight. She says, I am the owner.
Blue is reluctantly escorted into a hydrotherapy tank for his weekly treatment. The water relieves strain on his joints and puts less stress on his hips, msays Miranda Cosstick, a 23-year-old veterinary physiotherapist. Blue could barely manage 10 seconds on the underwater treadmill when he first started training in November 2021. Even though he has regained the weight he lost, he is now up to 45 seconds. The treadmill whirrs and whirrs and whirrs and whir From the warm lapping sea, Blue looks glumly out. When Cosstick raises a dog treat in front of him, he lunges forward, attempting to pry it from her grip. You have to taunt him with it to get him to move, Cosstick says.
But, despite what Blue's pleading looks might suggest, this isn't animal mistreatment. Blue is already arthritic and finds walking difficult. He will most likely die early from obesity-related issues if he does not lose weight. And he's not the only one. Full-figured pets are becoming more common in UK households. Prof Alex German of the University of Liverpool said, We've witnessed an increased prevalence of obesity in both dogs and cats for a long time. According to the PDSA animal charity, 78 percent of veterinary practitioners have witnessed a rise in pet obesity in recent years, and obesity is one of the top five welfare issues for pet owners in the United Kingdom.
As part of his exercise routine, Blue gets dipped in the hydrotherapy tank.
Many pet owners are unaware of the health risks associated with their overweight pets. Only 69% of people polled by the PDSA believed that overweight pets were more likely to develop major illnesses. "They're more prone to have mobility issues, arthritis, diabetes, respiratory issues, and urinary system difficulties," German adds. Overweight dogs are likely to die two and a half years sooner than their non-obese counterparts.
Kitty Thanki, on the other hand, isn't one of the people who believes that pet obesity isn't a problem. "One of the ironies of having a fat dog is that I'm a doctor," says the 35-year-old from Camden, north London. George, her seven-year-old pomeranian, resembles a stuffed draft excluder. He is 6.5 kilograms; ideally, he should be no more than 4.5 kg. Thanki describes him as "greedy." "He goes through the trash." He eats the stuff that the cats eat." George's weight increased to 7.1kg throughout the lockout. "It all intensified when my mother came to be with me," Thanki adds. Even if I advise her not to, she feeds him human food. She claims it's only a modest amount, but she's unaware of the caloric impact of a slice of bread on a small dog."
The internet is a contributing factor. When all you see are overweight pets, you begin to believe that this is normal.
George's experience is not unusual. The epidemic has increased the obesity crisis among pets in the United Kingdom. Since the March 2020 lockdown, 5% of cat owners and 9% of dog owners stated that their pets had gained weight, with 1.4 million pets being fed more human delicacies during this time. According to PDSA vet Lynne James, "being at home has made owners more likely to offer pets a little bit of what they're consuming." "When they're sitting there staring at you, it's easy to do."
Thanki started his Instagram account (@littlefatcockney) with 2,418 followers to capture his "weight loss journey," to borrow the lingo of diet organizations all over the world. The algorithm, on the other hand, does not want George to get more efficient. "He gets the most likes when he looks the most chubby," Thanki explains. Thanki understands this desire, even if she'd prefer to have no friends and a happy dog. "I'm probably just as guilty as everyone else of looking at overweight animals on the internet and thinking, 'They're so cute,'" she admits.
George, a chubby pomeranian whose 'weight-loss journey' is posted on Instagram.
George, a chubby pomeranian whose weight-loss journey is posted on Instagram. Instagram photo courtesy of @littlefatcockney
Thanki is referring to the widespread internet habit of chonky, thicc," and absolute units videos and photographs of obese animals. Hundreds of thousands of people follow the most popular Instagram accounts, which feature videos of obese cats getting stuck in cat flaps and attempting to climb on chairs. Some even sell items, such as dog backpacks, so that owners may transport obese pets who are unable to walk. The internet is a contributing factor, James explains. It normalizes the overweight appearance of these animals. When all you see are overweight pets, you begin to believe that this is normal. In comparison, healthy-weight pets begin to appear skinny.
Taking your animal to the veterinarian is the best way to determine whether or not it is overweight, but owners can also do so at home. Run your fingers loosely over their torso and see if you can feel their ribs and spine, James advises. With with a little pressure, you should be able to feel them. When you look at them from the side, you should notice a tucked-in waistline. For professional evaluation, I email James photos of my two beloved cats, Kedi and Larry. I'd want to touch them to be sure, she continues, but they appear to be good. I'd use them as an example of healthy-looking cats in a PDSA ad. I'm flushed with joy.
The most crucial thing, according to German, is to avoid berating property owners. He argues, Obesity is a severely stigmatized disorder.There's a lot of fat shaming out there, says the author. You could claim that cats and dogs aren't aware that they're being mocked. However, you risk embarrassing the owners, which leads to blame, and the problem with blame is that it obstructs proper obesity treatment. Thanki has been on the receiving end of this rash judgment. I've had strangers approach me and comment, Your dog is incredibly obese, she says. A woman once commented to my partner as she was carrying George at an event so he wouldn't get trodden on: He's got legs, you know. Maybe he doesn't because he's so big.
Celia Deakin, a 40-year-old Edinburgh teacher, is all too familiar with this reputation. She admits, I do feel bad. I'd prefer for him to be in good health. Deakin is trying to lose weight herself and says she feels criticized when she takes her 13-year-old dog Marlowe to the vet. It's embarrassing to be overweight and hold an overweight cat and say, I swear he doesn't eat that much, Deakin adds. Marlowe, who weighs 7.4kg, is described by Deakin as an absolute unit and a big puma. She adds, Not in a Rubenesque way. He's just an enormous, massive lump, says the narrator. It sounds like a cannonball hitting the ground, Deakin says of Marlowe jumping off the bed.
Marlowe, like George, gained weight during lockdown, when Deakin would feed him sweets to keep him from whining as she taught lessons on Zoom. But, when the vet diagnosed him with arthritis, she's been on a mission to lose weight for the past year. I went on this incredibly strict diet, Deakin explains, where I disregarded all of his cries for food and put him on special satiety food [calorie-controlled to help animals stay fuller for longer]. He went down by a gram. Deakin is at a lost for words. She doesn't think he's stealing food from her other cat, and she's not overfeeding him. She wonders if he's just big-boned by nature.
Dieting can be difficult,German explains, and it's best done with the help of a veterinarian. He urges pet owners to feed their animals high-quality, nutrient-dense satiety food. Always weigh the food on a scale, German advises, and keep treats to a minimum. When animals begin to beg for food, German suggests feeding them low-calorie nibbles like fried courgette slices. When the animal is whimpering, what it actually wants is that sense of attention and reward, German adds. There are, however, other ways to thank your pets. Take your dog for a stroll. Take care of your kitty.
Our food-centric treat culture, as well as a lack of widespread understanding about the consequences of pet obesity, can ruin even the best efforts of owners. Marlowe is eating outside, according to Deakin, either because his neighbors feed him or because he hunts for his own food. Members of the public have fed George from their picnics, thanks to Thanki. An entire packet of ham was given to him by a man in St James's Park, she claims. Oh don't worry, I don't mind, the man said. I said, I don't mind!
However, some members of the public are actively working to change their fellow pet owners negative habits. I weigh them six times a week,Anna Talbot says of the 37 gerbils she looks for. Talbot, a 44-year-old Staffordshire cleaner and restorer, maintains an unofficial shelter from her home. I don't have a place to live anymore, she says. Around the home, I have 16 tanks. My bedroom has six, my spare room has six, and the back room has four.
Talbot is looking for sad gerbils, which are gerbils that are overweight or fat and are housed in small cages. She brings them home and puts them on a special diet. Jake was 113 grams when she rescued him in 2021. She describes him as completely depressed. All he'd do is cram food in his mouth. Jake was too overweight to climb the stairs in Talbot's house at first, but she persuaded him to do so. She says, Give him that encouragement. He dropped a gram here and there.
Talbot was able to get Jake down to a more healthier 80g in just a few months. Her efforts, however, were too late. He had blood in his urine, which she discovered. She believes it had something to do with his weight. Her veterinarian refused to come to her house because it was a weekend. He lay next to me all night, Talbot adds, his voice strained. He was in excruciating pain. He was just lying there, staring at me. He strolled up to me and Eskimo-kissed me half an hour before he passed. He was aware that I was there for him. She said that was the worst gerbil-keeping experience of her life. She says, I've lost gerbils before.I murdered a gerbil by stepping on him. It was a disaster. I'm experiencing flashbacks. Jake, on the other hand, was unique because he was such a lovely little spirit.
Despite her setback, Talbot is committed to save obese gerbils. She's just completed weighing Ethan, a gerbil she rehomed 10 days ago, as we speak. When she first got him, he weighed 103g; today he only weighs 88g (he should weigh around 80g). In the pet shop, everyone were laughing at how fat he was, Talbot recalls. I said to myself, Oh my God, I've never seen such a fat gerbil! I was eager to get him out. It would constitute animal cruelty if you hit an animal. Obesity is similar. They are unable to make their own decisions. You must gain the upper hand by providing them with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Overfeeding, on the other hand, is not considered willful animal mistreatment by the majority of specialists. This isn't being done from the wrong perspective, James explains. They're doing it because they care about their dogs and believe it's the proper thing to do. I hesitate to call it cruelty, especially when you have a creature who is truly motivated by food and acts hungry even when they aren't.Thanki is understanding of her mother's practice of giving the dog toast. She claims that a lot of it is cultural. I come from an Indian family. When I was a kid, I would always be overflowing when I left my grandmother's place. The idea that feeding someone signifies they're loved is deeply engrained.
But there is such a thing as loving someone to death, especially when they are a cute animal with a sweet tooth and a whiny disposition. Obese pet owners should rest easy knowing that most bad behaviors can be broken with discipline, underwater treadmills, and the occasional piece of courgette. we have a tiny request. Since we began publishing 200 years ago, tens of millions of people have put their faith in the Guardian's fearless journalism, turning to us in times of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity, and hope. More than 1.5 million donors from 180 countries currently keep us financially afloat, allowing us to remain open to everyone while being fiercely independent.
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