English Boston-Bulldog

Obesity: A Disease and a Debate for Pets, Too

Obesity is quite a problem for pets as well as humans, so a growing number of veterinary medicine organizations are developing guidance on the subject. Around the world, 25 international medical veterinary organizations have endorsed the position of the Global Pet Obesity Initiative. In short, veterinarians around the world are recognizing that obesity is a disease they must address. But just as we see with humans, people are ready to quibble about this.

A Debate for the BSAVA

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association not only endorsed the Global Pet Obesity Initiative, it developed a position statement of its own. So, no surprise, we hear folks begging to differ. Writing in the Veterinary Record, John Burns says it’s really quite a simple problem:

I suggest that the situation with pets ought to be easier to tackle as the choice of food for pets is under the control of the pet owner. Unfortunately, the pet food market is shifting towards foods and treats which are high in meat and fat, and so means more calories.

Eating whole foods as our principal food is a long-standing tradition which has been lost in recent times.

In other words, quit feeding your pets so much junk food. Problem solved.

Alex German and Ian Ramsey responded by pointing out that such finger wagging can create some of the same problems with stigma for pet owners as it does for human patients. So the BSAVA encourages vets to have “supportive, non-judgemental conversations with owners of pets who have obesity.”

Blame and Shame Isn’t Helping

For human patients and pets alike, blame and shame only makes the problem of obesity worse. For one thing it pushes people away from dealing with it. Patients avoid doctors who shame them. Pet owners avoid finger-wagging vets.

Also, it deceives people into thinking that obesity is a simple problem with simple solutions. It’s not. Humans, pets, and many other animals are all accumulating more body fat for reasons we don’t fully comprehend.

We have options for dealing with it, but none of them are simple, quick fixes. We need honest compassionate care for both people and pets. And we need curiosity to seek a better understanding of obesity and better options for treating it.

Wagging tails are much better than wagging fingers.

Click here for the Burns letter and here for the German-Ramsey response. For more from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, click here.

English Boston-Bulldog, photograph © rileydamon / flickr

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June 30, 2019