Year-Round Pet Obesity Awareness

fat cat

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the parallels between humans and animals in an area called displacement behavior, which in humans can also be called adjunctive behavior or body-focused repetitive behavior. When feeling boxed in, conflicted, threatened, anxious, confused, or fearful, a dog might stop to scratch itself or chew up a shoe. A human might pause to bite his nails, pick fuzzballs off her sweater, or consume a bag of potato chips. Compulsive eating can be viewed as within the range of displacement or adjunctive behavior. It certainly is body-focused and repetitive.

In a previous post, we recalled the advice given to a concerned dog owner by Kathy Santo of Good Housekeeping. The worried reader even went so far as to refer to the dog’s “food addiction,” and that is worth a closer look. The columnist’s first suggestion was a complete, in-depth medical workup. If no organic reason could be found for the dog’s non-stop and indiscriminate eating habit, Santo went on to say:

Sometimes low-grade stress coupled with boredom and inactivity produces a chowhound. Dogs are social and thrive on companionship, and even though you have another dog, if your Pomeranian still feels lonely, you may see displacement behavior, which manifests itself in such things as excessive licking/grooming, barking, pacing, and, drum roll… eating!

For the troubled canine, Santo suggested more exercise and more training, not merely to end up with a better-behaved pet, but for the sake of the animal itself, which was probably spending too much time alone or in exclusively doggy company. Attention from a human is a high-level reward for a dog, and more face-time with its owner might be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. Santo also recommends “smart” toys and other ways for a dog to amuse itself besides eating, or attempting to eat inedible things.

Two veterinarians, Dr. Ernie Ward and Dr. Mark Peterson, cite the total number of overweight cats and dogs as 80 million. They are particularly worried about cats, whose obesity rate is at an all-time peak of 58%. Also, type 2 diabetes is becoming a huge problem. Dr. Peterson says:

The best preventive measure a pet owner can make is to keep their dog or cat at a healthy weight. Diabetes is far easier to prevent than treat, especially when twice daily insulin injections are needed.

In the canine realm, the breeds most likely to become obese are the Labrador retriever and the golden retriever. German shepherds, for some reason, hardly ever get fat. Only 2.1% of them turn out to be overweight. Do German shepherds harbor some secret that would help in the childhood obesity struggle?

April, May, and October are all claimed by various entities as Pet Obesity Awareness Month. As long as there are three official months already devoted to the cause, why not just to ahead and pay attention to the important issue of pet obesity prevention every month of the year?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why Does Your Dog Overeat?,” Good Housekeeping, 01/22/08
Source: “Pet Obesity Rates Rise, Cats Heavier Than Ever,”, 03/12/13
Image by John Galt.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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