Many people made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Did you? Did your dog make one also?
Obesity in humans has become a major health problem in the United States. The Center for Disease Control has estimated that 68% of the population is overweight and 33% are considered obese. Due to the propensity of people to treat their dogs as “their children” or in other terms as humans, this health problem is also emerging as a major problem for dogs. It has been reported that over 50% of dogs that live in the United States are overweight or obese. This is a staggering 44 million dogs.
This over-weight situation in our canine pets is creating the same health problems, as many modern-day humans are experiencing. These nutritional diseases and health problems are numerous including degenerative joint disease, high blood sugar levels, hypertension, hardening of the arteries, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, breathing difficulties and pulmonary disease, torn knee tendons, cancer, and early mortality rates.
There are many economic, social, and psychological reasons why a sizeable percentage of the American population has reached this state of unhealthiness. In his most recent book, “The Well-Tuned Brain” Peter Whybrow uses extensive research from neuroscience, economics, philosophy, history, and anthropology to explain human behavior from the 2008 financial crisis to obesity. From his broad knowledge of neuroscience he describes how the intuitive or reflexive parts of the brain control much of our actions instinctively. The central theses of the book are concerned with our ability individually and as a society to survive in today’s tempting commercial consumer driven market culture when our brain often functioning on primeval instincts tells us to do the wrong things as assuming too much debt or eating too much.
With dogs even more of their actions are controlled by instinct. They cannot imagine, will think in the future, or think in the abstract. This is one reason why anthropomorphizing them, meaning we think about them as if they were human, can create problems especially when it comes to eating habits, diet, and obesity.
People have the ability to think about and plan for the future. Eat a light lunch because later you will sit down to a big dinner, your mother counsels you to quit eating snacks or you will not have room for dinner, I have to keep my New Year’s resolution to lose weight…. Etc. Dogs although very intelligent and demonstrate many personality, mental, and human type emotions cannot imagine or think about the future, they do not have the mental capacity, they react to the present. Their instincts inherited from the wolf tell them that when they find food as with a kill of deer they need to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible before bigger predators arrive and there might not be another kill for a long time. When they start to cross the road and a car is coming they many times with disastrous outcomes from instinct just try to run faster because they cannot anticipate that if they just wait the cars will pass and they can cross safely.
As stated it is a well-known and recognized common health problem in our domesticated dogs. It is documented and discussed in academic veterinarian literature, the commercial pet industry, and on the numerous Internet sites associated with our pets and dogs. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) is dedicated to educating dog owners about obesity in their pets. Its site http://www.petobesityprevention.org has comprehensive information on symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of this critical dog health problem. Much of the information in this article was obtained at this very informative site.
“Fat Pet Gap” is one very interesting concept that APOP identifies, in which 95% of owners of overweight and even obese dogs incorrectly believe their pet is normal weight. This obviously makes confronting the obesity problem difficult. APOP has calculators to compare overweight conditions in dogs to that of humans that help the dog owner to identify and start to work on alleviating the problem. For instance, it shows that a 12-pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds.
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The root cause of this problem for dog health is the same as in humans, eating too much, eating the wrong foods, and not enough exercise; calories consumed exceed calories expended. But this article is not meant to lecture dog owners on all the nitty-gritty details of dog obesity, but to try to make them think about problem from a different view; a view from the neuroscience of the dog’s brain.
Bruce Harte is a Partner and Head of the Research Staff at VitaHound.com . He has always been a devoted dog owner with his companions over the last 60+ years ranging from mongrels, to beagles to golden and black labs. They have always been raised naturally not only with diet and dog supplements but also with their environment including their adobe home in the high Sonoran Desert or rustic cabins high in the Pines of the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. Receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1968 Bruce has over 50 years experience in technical and scientific research. Bruce’s love of gardening, natural herbs and remedies combined with extensive knowledge of Native American culture has enabled the VitaHound site to become a robust source of dog supplement and nutrition information.