Pets Count on Us to Keep Them Healthy

Dr. Pretlow has written that “Pet obesity is more ‘pure’ than child obesity, in that contributing factors and treatment points are essentially under the control of the pet-parent.” In other words, if a dog, a hamster, or even a horse is unhealthily fat, the finger of responsibility can point nowhere except to the human who maintains that pet. Because the contributing factors are narrowed down to one, this is pretty clear.

When a child is obese, the blame could potentially be spread around. Grandparents might be sneaking unauthorized treats to the child. The school lunch could be too calorie-packed. A lot of different things could be happening. But when a cat’s body is wider than it is long, the pet mommy or the pet daddy cannot escape accountability. The animal is overfed, period. Consequently, Dr. Pretlow proposes,

Pet obesity might thus serve as an ideal test bed for the treatment and prevention of child obesity, with focus primarily on parental behaviors. Sharing information between the fields of pet and child obesity would be mutually beneficial.

Such information is shared in his invited presentation for the American Society of Animal Science 2020 conference, titled “What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals & What Can We do About It?” Of course this is not the first time he has addressed this problem in a public venue. In the print realm, “Similarities between obesity in pets and children: the addiction model,” by Dr. Robert A. Pretlow and Dr. Ronald J. Corbee, appeared a couple of years back in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Watching a corpulent animal waddle around can be amusing, and if it were only a matter of appearance, who would care? But overweight pets, just like too-heavy people, can develop diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and other co-morbidities. And sometimes, the pet parents are simply incapable of seeing the problem, or perhaps pal around with enablers who reassure them that a pudgy little dog, at twice its normal weight, looks adorable.

Often, the problem needs to be pointed out by an impartial third party. Someone needs to step in and say, “Stop giving that creature so much food, and take it out for a walk once in a while.”

Just because animals are involved that does not mean human psychology is not involved. Both humans and sensitive pets can suffer from depression, isolation, anxiety, stress and boredom. Both can develop a food-dependent condition that looks and functions very much like addiction.

Companion animals are known to be quite affectionate, but there may, on the part of the human, be an inordinate need for love that skews the balance between responsible nourishment and neurotic manipulation. There can be an unhealthy co-dependent relationship, and this is as true of parents with human children as it is of pet parents. As Dr. Pretlow says, “Information garnered from each field should complement treatment and prevention in the other.”

The Childhood Obesity News posts that concern pet health are neatly rounded up in this comprehensive directory.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Similarities between obesity in pets and children: the addiction model,”, 06/17/16
Image by Dan Perry/CC BY 2.0

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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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