Rosie (AKA The Jet-set Puppy), has always been a sturdy looking dog. Or as somebody once described her: “a chunky pup”. Chunky looked good on her when she was a puppy. It made her look like a healthy little bear cub. But as our vet told us when we recently took Rosie for her annual check-up, “chunky” on an adult dog equals “fat”. Poor Rosie. I think she understood what he was saying about her physique. She literally pouted when we were in the consulting room, refusing the [healthy] treat that the vet was trying to bribe her with. Then she looked miffed the rest of the day.
So Rosie has been on a “diet” for a week now. Less food, less treats, more exercise. I keep telling her this is hurting me more than it’s hurting her, but I don’t think she believes me. She turns those big brown eyes on me as if to say “REALLY?! This is what you want me to eat?” and “Is that ALL? This wouldn’t be enough for a Chihuahua!” To me she’s looking a little more streamlined already. Although Willie doesn’t seem to think so. He says: “Yes, she’s definitely more toned – if you look at her in the right light and from a particular angle“! Rude, isn’t he?!
On the weekend, I came across a book called “Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing” by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers.
From the Amazon book description:
In the spring of 2005, cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz was called to consult on an unusual patient: an Emperor tamarin at the Los Angeles Zoo. While examining the tiny monkey’s sick heart, she learned that wild animals can die of a form of cardiac arrest brought on by extreme emotional stress. It was a syndrome identical to a human condition but one that veterinarians called by a different name—and treated in innovative ways.
This remarkable medical parallel launched Natterson-Horowitz on a journey of discovery that reshaped her entire approach to medicine. She began to search for other connections between the human and animal worlds: Do animals get breast cancer, anxiety-induced fainting spells, sexually transmitted diseases? Do they suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, addiction?
The answers were astonishing. Dinosaurs suffered from brain cancer. Koalas catch chlamydia. Reindeer seek narcotic escape in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Stallions self-mutilate. Gorillas experience clinical depression.
So what has this to do with Rosie and her weight issues? Well, it seems she is not alone . . .
Vets are seeing more and more overweight animals; the scale of the problem is now comparable to the human battle against the bulge.
They treat increasingly portly ponies. They instruct owners not to overfeed chubby fish. They describe tortoises so fat they can no longer pop in and out of their shells. They’ve seen so many overweight birds they have a new nickname for them: perch potatoes.
Dogs are put on diet drugs to curb their appetites. Liposuction has been the treatment of choice for obese canines whose extra flab threatens to snap their spines or splay their hips. Felines are put on the ‘Catkins’ diet – a veterinary version of the high-protein, ultra-low-carb Atkins Diet for humans.
[From: Zoobiquity article]
I had to laugh at the “perch potatoes” and “Catkins diet”! What vets are seeing is that the same life-threatening ailments which occur in humans are also occuring in overweight animals i.e. diabetes, cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal disorders, glucose intolerance, some cancers and possibly high blood pressure.
Vets in both domestic practices and zoos have successfully been putting animals on special diets for years. So what the authors of the book are suggesting is that maybe doctors should be learning what vets already know.
It is not just human owners who are over-feeding their beloved pets though, wild animals can also become chubby.
Startlingly, wildlife biologists have begun tracking what seem to be wild-animal obesity trends, too. Over the past 40 years, yellow-bellied marmots in the Colorado Rockies, country rats in the north-eastern United States and blue whales off the coast of California have become chubbier and chubbier.
We imagine that in the wild, animals will eat until they are full and then stop. But given the chance, many wild fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals overindulge. Abundance plus access – the twin downfalls of many a human dieter – can challenge wild animals, too.
When presented with unlimited food, domestic species, including dogs, cats, sheep, horses, pigs and cattle, eat nine to 12 meals a day.
Doctors’ standard advice to their overweight human patients is ‘to change your body, you must change yourself’. That’s also the directive of practically every diet book and guru. Eat less. Exercise more. Exert more willpower.
But when vets see animals getting fatter, they don’t say: ‘Those animals don’t have much willpower.’ Instead, they ask: ‘What’s going on in that animal’s surroundings?’ Vets don’t see obesity as a disease of an individual; they see it as a disease of the environment.
[From: Zoobiquity article]
Of course in the wild the processes of weight-gain and weight-loss are dynamic, and depend on food availability. Also, if an animal is worried about predators close by, it’s not going to eat large, leisurely meals, but have “snacks on the run”.
Obesity isn’t the only eating problem physicians could conquer with help from their veterinary colleagues. Animals binge-eat. They hide and hoard food. They eat in secret and at night. Such types of behaviour are called ‘disorders’ by psychologists when they see them in their human patients.
Yet wildlife biologists would call them eating ‘strategies’ that enhance an animal’s survival abilities or evolutionary ‘fitness’.
[From: Zoobiquity article]
Rosie, who is in no danger of starving, also hides and hoards her food. She often hides her doggie biscuits all over the house, just so that nobody steals them before she wants them! I think her hiding and hoarding behaviour may just escalate if she thinks there is likely to be a more drastic food shortage to come!
The book doesn’t just cover the subject of animal obesity, so I’m really keen to read what other health issue comparisons they have made between animals and humans.
The jet-set puppy series: