The Jet-set Puppy goes on a diet

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.

Rosie at 2 months old – her first day with us. She was a little “jet-lagged” having flown across the country the day before. ©LB/

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.

Rosie at 3 years doing one of her favourite things – napping with the cat! Photo was taken before the diet started! ©LB/

The jet-set puppy series:

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Categories: Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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12 Comments on “The Jet-set Puppy goes on a diet”

  1. July 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Rosie is SO cute!! Oh, I hate being on a diet and I feel sorry that she is feeling deprived.
    I find your post so intriguing, and it makes me wonder — have you ever thought that maybe all creatures are feeling a strong biological imperative to pack on the pounds and store fat NOW because we unconsciously sense there is a coming famine, brought on by climate change, global warming & other trends that we are intent upon denying?? I’m anything but one of those people anticipating disaster, but the articles you cited make me even more certain there maybe something to this. What do you think, Lisa?? (And congrats for getting
    Charles’ Continental Blogger award — well deserved!!!)

    • July 3, 2012 at 6:02 am #

      Rosie thinks she’s cute too! 😉 Knows just how to charm people.

      Yes, I do think we have a biological imperative (as do all other animals) to put on weight during the “good times” (i.e. when food is plentiful). Not just necessarily because of climate change etc, but as a function of past experience. In our modern society food is always readily available – at least in developed countries – and our levels of physical activity have decreased, so we continue to gain weight unless we consciously do something about it. We are no longer part of a natural system, where droughts etc affect our food supply drastically. I downloaded the book last night, and will share with you anything interesting I come across.

      Thanks for telling me about the Continental Blogger award. I wasn’t even aware of it, but now I see that I’m getting referrals from Charles’ site.

  2. July 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Intereseting. I had no idea that wild animals could become obese. By the way, I don’t think Rosie looks obese at all. At least not from that angle 🙂

    • July 3, 2012 at 6:06 am #

      That is a good angle for her! She looks more chubby when she sits. I’ll accept your kind words on Rosie’s behalf. The reception ladies at the veterinary surgery said (after hearing the vet’s opinion): “She’s not fat, she’s just big-boned.”! LOL.

  3. July 3, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    I found the article interesting but a bit odd. They seemed so astonished that animals and humans are hardwired in similar ways about food. It’s as if it was a revalation that we’re animals too.

    Also, I’ve never had a vet say to me, “What’s going on in your dog’s environment?” They’ve always said, “You’re feeding him too much.” My vet only sees Cardhu’s tubbiness as a disease of the environment insofar as I define his environment, i.e. how much he gets to eat.

    To be fair, I imagine that people studying wild animals who notice them getting fat will investigate the environmental causes—but in most cases I imagine that the environmental cause is an abundance of food supply or (as with bears) as a metabolic ability to put on weight when needed that’s triggered by the season or weather. Maybe humans put on more weight in the fall, when more fat is likely to be needed to protect against the cold. That might be useful to know—uh oh, even more important to watch out for those Christmas dinners.

    • July 3, 2012 at 6:19 am #

      Thanks for your interesting comment. Yes, we humans do tend to forget that we’re animals too!

      As far as pets are concerned, we pet owners do create the environment which leads are animals to gain weight. Too much food available, too little exercise opportunities. Rosie loves to walk and run, so the amount of exercise she gets depends on how often I can take her out. Think if she was a farm dog, she’d be far more active and lean. Our vet was trying to be very diplomatic the other day – didn’t accuse us of over-feeding Rosie, but said we had to had to “change her lifestyle”.

      The book authors suggest that since animals don’t control their weight using willpower, maybe that’s not a good way for us to think about it either. I see this relating to us humans in that to live healthier lives and keep our weight down, we have to create an environment around us which helps us to succeed. If you only have healthy food in your home, then you don’t get tempted to eat badly when you’re hungry or are craving something.

      I’ve downloaded the book so that I’ll be able to read the full chapter on the food-weight issue. Will let you know if there’s anything interesting in it.

  4. July 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    I don’t think that Rosie looks fat at all. There’s no rolls of fat on her – I mean look at how streamlined she is! And a dog like her needs to feel solid, it’s not good to have their ribs and hipbones sticking out. Shame, poor Rosie… I’d also feel miffed… Maybe the vet’s wife isn’t feeding him enough and he’s grumpy and now telling all his patients they’re overweight too! 😉

    Big hugs and pat-a-pat-a-pats to Rosie-girl.

    • July 4, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      Rosie thanks you for your support! 🙂 Whenever she comes back from the kennels, she’s thin and looks so hungry! Kennel = dog fat farm?! LOL I’m not putting her on such a drastic diet though.

      • July 4, 2012 at 8:37 am #

        Aw, you’re welcome, Rosie. Pat-a-pat-a-pat!!! I think you are *svelte*!

        And now I understand what’s happening – she’s afraid of being dumped at the doggy-diet-place, so she’s making sure she has enough of a ‘buffer’ to ‘live off’ when she’s being starved.

        And that’s probably why she’s hiding her cookies all over the place too! AND moving them when she suspects you’ve found them! HA! What a CLEVER dog she is!

      • July 5, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        “Svelte” may be going just a little too far, Reggie! 😉 She is looking better already than in the photo though – has more of a “waist” now. And because she’s on a special diet her coat is very glossy – after just 10 days of the new regime.

        She is a very clever and sneaky doggie! 🙂

  5. July 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Poor sweet Rosie. Look at that face. it’s like she’s saying, “Please can I have a biscuit? I’m sooo hungry.” 🙂

    Reggie ALWAYS has that face…especially if I’m eating something. But he never hides food, thankfully. A friend’s dog used to do that. She would open the refrigerator (true) pick out some cookies and then hide them behind the sofa or in the plants. I bet it takes you a while to find all of the hidden “treasures” that Rosie leaves around the house. 🙂

    • July 4, 2012 at 7:47 am #

      Actually when I took that photo of Rosie and the cat, she was actually wanting me to go away and leave them to sleep in peace! I have to admit that I do take a lot of photos of them.

      Rosie knows that some good stuff gets stored in the refrigerator, but hasn’t figured out how to open it yet. Yes, I find her “puppy cookies” in the most unlikely places when I’m cleaning. But I don’t think she forgets where they are – we hear her crunching on a cookie at night sometimes. What’s funny is that if she thinks one of us has seen where she put a cookie, she’ll move it to a different room.

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