Keeping their status as the enactors of cutting edge legislation, the state of California is pushing to become the first state to create an animal abuse registry that would contain the names of people who have been convicted of animal abuse. Similar to the sex offender registry, this proposed legislation would seek to protect future victimization by limiting the access that animal abusers have to those they might seek to harm.
If the goal of this legislation is to prevent abusive behavior towards pets, then 35 million dog owners may deserve to have a place on a pet abuse registry. That’s the estimated number of dogs in America that are being overfed into a state of obesity and eventual death, according to the statistics of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
“We are killing our dogs by making them fat,” according to Dr. Ernie Ward, a 20-year veterinarian, the founder of APOP, and the author of the dog obesity book, “Chow Hounds.” Although the motivation behind overfeeding a dog and putting it into a dog fighting ring are very different, the outcomes for both are the same – the dog’s health and well-being are put at risk, and death is a real possibility.
One of the reasons that dog obesity is out of control, according to Dr. Ward, is a lack of awareness that there is a problem. Millions of people have forgotten what a normal weight dog looks like. “Owners who think their dogs are ‘fluffy,’ are stuck in the fat gap,” says Dr. Ward. But just because we think our dogs look “normal,” doesn’t mean that they are.
Most commonly, the definition of pet obesity is an animal weighing 30% over its ideal body weight, according to breed standards. Because there are so many mixed breed dogs in the world, it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly what that ideal weight is. The easiest way to determine if your dog is overweight, according to Dr. Ward, is to look at its appearance objectively, instead of looking at it with a cuteness bias. If you can’t feel your dog’s ribs or see a defined waistline, your dog is overweight. And just like it is for humans, rolls of belly fat and back fat are not “normal,” they’re just plain fat.
The fact that human obesity and dog obesity are both on the rise in the U.S. is not a coincidence. A recent Amsterdam study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that overweight owners tend to have overweight dogs. That study concluded that this is not coincidental, but rather causal. When pet owners aren’t getting enough exercise to control their own weight, chances are, their dogs are not getting enough exercise either. The lack of physical activity contributes to the obesity of both man and man’s best friend.
But just as lack of exercise is not the only culprit behind the obesity of 70 million Americans, it’s not the only cause of dog obesity either. A lack of nutritious food and an abundance of empty calories are problematic for both overweight owners and paunchy pups.
As far back as 1997 the effect of sugar and fat on animal weight was known. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology showed the effect that the contents of animal diets can have.
Researchers bred obesity-prone and obesity-resistant rats and compared the behaviors of the two groups when offered an identical diet. When fed a high fat diet, the obesity-resistant rats ate much less of the food offered to them. The obesity-prone rats tended to eat everything that was offered to them.
When the two groups of rats were fed a diet that was both high in fat and high in sugar, the consumption of food in both groups was the same – all the rats ate excessively and all of the rats became obese. The conclusion? The combination of high fat and high sugar is so addictive that it overrides an animal’s natural appetite regulation system.
Fast forward thirteen years and the commercial dog foods that millions of dog owners are feeding their beloved pooches are spiked with… what else? Sugar and fat! (A generous portion of salt is thrown into all the “best” brands of dog foods as well, in order to make the trifecta of addictive ingredients complete). Dog food manufacturers that label their fatty-sugary-salty pet foods as “healthy,” are not nearly as concerned about Fido’s fitness as they are about Mommy’s money.
Dog owners tend to repurchase the dog food brands that their furry friends seem to like the best. And as the rats in the 1997 research study proved, animals will always show a definite preference for the food that is the most addictive. Fido begs, mommy buys, and the cycle of addictive eating that leads to pet obesity continues.
Unfortunately, the most dangerous part of today’s doggy diet is not even the fat, sugar, and salt-laced food they’re overeating at mealtimes, according to Dr. Ward. The worst thing that owners are feeding their pets these days are those innocent looking in-between meal treats. Those cute little puffed, baked, bone-shaped biscuits, chews, and cookies are so high in salt, fat, and sugar and so highly addictive that Dr. Ward refers to them as “kibble crack.”
Just as with humans, sugar is addicting to dogs and causes not only an insatiable craving for more sugar, but also a compulsive craving for food in general. The relentless begging your dog starts every time a human being is in the vicinity of the treat cabinet is not just annoying. If equated to the type of frantic behavior that a drug addict exhibits when they are desperate for their next fix, Fido’s begging is not so much annoying as it is alarming. And continuing to supply our pets with “kibble crack” is equivalent to being the supplier for a loved one’s drug habit.
Obesity stops being cute or funny in man’s best friend at the point when it starts to adversely affect their health. Obese dogs have a higher risk for osteoarthritis, insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, according to an annual survey conducted by APOP.
“Sadly we’re raising the first generation of dogs that likely won’t live as long as their parents,” Dr. Ward writes in his “Chow Hounds” book.
In a nation where animals are considered to be so much a member of the family that doggy day care, puppy play dates, canine car seats, and pet health insurance are standard, it is incomprehensible that Americans are literally feeding their pets to death. It is Dr. Ward’s belief that with a little bit of education and a few simple changes the obesity epidemic in American house pets can be reversed. America’s pet owners can easily find different and more healthy ways to express their love for their “canine kids” without turning them into “Chow Hounds.”
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