BaxterBoo Blog
May 7, 2013

Emotional Treating: Why We Overfeed our Pets

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Reactions to the story of Obie, the 77-pound Dachshund, have been passionate. How could anyone let their dog get so fat? Stories of supersized pets are becoming more common, and we want to address the issues surrounding pet obesity to ensure these vulnerable members of the family can be assured long and healthy lives.

The Emotional Anatomy of Overfeeding

Obie was originally owned by an elderly couple in Seattle who expressed their love for their adorable Dachshund with food. His weight crept up gradually over the course of five years, and the couple tearfully surrendered him to a rescue when it became almost impossible for Obie to move. People might be tempted to be angry with the former owners, but we all would do well to look in the mirror before we start pointing fingers.

Am I an emotionally healthy pet parent, when it comes to food?

Ouch. Yes, I just went there. We have our own issues with food and, yes, a lot of them are emotional. I remember a certain family member not feeling valuable unless I was eating her specially-prepared foods in mass quantities. Then that same family member would berate me for looking a bit pudgy. Perhaps you weren't allowed to leave the table unless you "cleaned your plate" and would then be christened "good" for ignoring your inner "full" indicator.

Now I'm in the nurturing role, and I find it easy to bask in the praises of the offspring when I make a nice meal. This feeling carries over to my pets. Only the pets offer even more unbridled adoration when being offered treats! The two dogs line up every morning after their potty break like clockwork. I feel good about the routine. The rest of the day may not go as planned, but at least we have this little moment, and I smile as I read the label of these expensive tooth-cleaning treats, completely buying into the clever marketing.

The cats join in too. Only Cali actually partakes of the treats, though. I have to admit, there's a little emotional awkwardness that the little Ms. Boo abstains. I'm feeling that emotional tie back to Grandma, and understanding how it made her feel good when we'd eat her treats, and I have to fight the urge not to force feed my ungrateful kitty.

Am I being manipulated by slick marketing?

I'd cheerfully been feeding a few pieces of cat treats to Cali thinking that she was really feeling special getting more pieces than the dogs' one treat (funny how we put thoughts into our pet's heads.) After doing reasearch on how pet treats can contribute to obesity, I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing harm to my kitty by giving her too many. But the package said I needed to TRIPLE the amount I'd been giving her to get the full benefit of the health properties this treat claimed to be promoting!

We need to be aware that a small amount of calories makes a huge difference for pets because their frames are small. A tiny treat can be like feeding your cat or dog a Big Mac! Be sure to consult with your vet about the best foods for your pet and any treats you give them.

What does healthy look like?

Americans are fatter than ever. Our pets are mirroring this trend. Certain regions of the country don't even remember what fit looks like, for humans or their pets. Humans and pets are being marketed to with slick, emotion-pulling ads selling food that may or may not be truly healthy. These foods are readily available at the nearest drive-thru window. Now even fast food restaurants are offering treats made just for dogs!

Again, consult with your veterinarian about foods and treats, and about what your pet's ideal weight should be.

While we're at it, we can try to make better choices for our own health too! Our pets are counting on us to help them be healthy, and need us to be healthy enough to take care of them!

Do you find your emotional relationship with food impacts how you feed your pets?

Photo courtesy of David K.




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