Pet Obesity and a Certain Amount of Weirdness


When humans raise children a lot of factors enter the equation. Raising a pet is kind of a stripped-down version of child-rearing, with fewer complications, and more potential for the parent to control the situation. This may be why irregularities and aberrations are more obvious in pet-parents. When a human lives alone in an apartment with an obese dog that never goes out, it is obvious where the responsibility lies.

When Vincent’s human died, the 8-year-old dachshund was turned over to K-9 Angels Rescue in Houston, Texas. Little seems to be known about the former pet owner, but since Vincent also has serious periodontal disease it was probably someone disabled and/or impoverished, without the means to provide either exercise or medical care for the companion animal.

Veterinarian Sharon Anderson told the press about Vincent:

At his original BMI, he was at a severe risk for arthritis, diabetes, reduced mobility, increased physical injury that can lead to paralysis of the hind legs, cancer, respiratory disease, kidney disease, pancreatic and shortened life expectancy.

The picture here on our page is not Vincent, but the celebrity dachshund can be seen at In their photo, poor Vincent is lying on his side, his body grotesquely swollen into a rectangular shape, with fat trying to burst through the straining skin. He had a BMI of 62.7 and weighed 36 (or 38 or 40, depending on the source) pounds. Any of those original numbers would be more than twice his ideal weight, calculated at 16.89 pounds.

With the help of the vet and the foster mom who later adopted him Vincent made a full recovery. The point here is that pets can become morbidly obese, and they can also recover if given the opportunity for a new lease on life.

Into the dark

Co-dependency takes many forms. It can manifest as an inability to say no, through fear of the loss of affection. We mentioned a pet-owner who found entertainment in overfeeding a dog because of the amusing way its eyes popped out in anticipation of a treat.

A human like this might also be obese, and enjoy bringing the pet into the obesity club just for the camaraderie. Or it could be the opposite. A human who absolutely must stay slim (a TV newsreader for instance) might keep a pet as an eating surrogate, fondly indulged with treats.

Dr. Pretlow says:

I believe that parental co-dependence is likely an important factor in childhood obesity development and thus prevention and treatment.

The same holds for pets, as Dr. Pretlow and Dr. Ronald J. Corbee suggest in their British Journal of Nutrition article, “Similarities between obesity in pets and children: the addiction model.” In its most extreme form, co-dependency is like emotional vampirism, with one partner being nourished by the life essence of the other.

In the weird psychological kink “Munchausen by proxy” (or MBP), the parent causes illness in the child or pet in order to reap attention, gratitude, admiration, the self-aggrandizement of being perceived as a devoted caregiver, and the thrill of feeling like a professional colleague when working with medical personnel. The afflicted human needs so desperately to be needed that causing disease in an alleged loved one seems like a viable choice.

Myrna Milani wrote for The Canadian Veterinary Journal:

In human medicine, MBP is classified as a form of abuse and diagnosed in 2 ways: by hospitalizing the child and using hidden cameras to observe parental interaction, or observing the recovery of the child when taken away from the parent. However, little is know about the psychodynamics of the condition, because those affected often vehemently deny any accusation, even when presented with proof. Additionally, most also resist or refuse any therapy.

The literature includes many similar observations, so pet-parents are definitely not immune to this strange disorder.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Houston dachshund known as fat Vincent is now ‘skinny Vinnie’ after dramatic weight loss,”, 04/09/16
Source: “Problematic client-animal relationships: Munchausen by proxy,”, December 2006
Photo credit: Howard O. Young via Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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