[Possible trigger for weight loss talk. Primarily about animals rather than people, but connected to diet culture.]
As I’ve mentioned before, the hubby and I foster dogs for a rescue organization. Our first foster, Reba, is now happy in her new home, and we have a second foster, Hershey Girl.
Hershey is an eight and a half year old beagle. She’s incredibly sweet, though shy at times and somewhat concerned about cats (largely because my cat Thomas is, well, kind of a butthead).
She has mammary tumors which we’re hoping are benign. Fortunately, they frequently are, but we won’t know anything until they actually do a biopsy. We’ll try to get her adopted out either way, but if she does have cancer, it will most likely become our job to make her remaining time as happy and comfortable as possible and be with her once it’s time to put her to sleep. (She belongs to the rescue, so that would be their call, not ours.)
Hershey Girl is also very fat. Average for a female beagle is 22-25 pounds, and she weighs 37. So, we’re going to try to help her lose some of that. Which, as you can imagine, is a little conflicting for me.
I know dogs aren’t people, and I don’t want to conflate the two or let my feelings about diet culture interfere with taking the best possible care of this dog that I can. And yet, I have to think that if it’s not as simple as “calories in, calories out” in people, is it really that simple in animals?
Heck, I know it’s not. I’m sitting next to a fat cat (Haley) who’s far more active than our other cat (Thomas). Thomas, however, isn’t fat. He has a bit of a belly, but mostly he’s just a big cat. Thomas, the leaner cat, is also the first to the food dish, the first to mew piteously if we haven’t fed him the minute we get up, and the first to get all indignant when we make food for ourselves and don’t give him any. But the fat kitty is also a spayed female, which tends to cause weight gain.
The other tricky thing is that dogs and people have very different internal cues. Dogs tend to be always hungry and not necessarily self-regulate. There are plenty of dogs who would eat their dinner, the rest of the bag of food, and everything vaguely edible on the counter if given half a chance. I know this isn’t true of all dogs (Diamond is sleeping next to a bowl with food left in it as we speak), but it’s pretty common.
People, on the other hand, are usually good at self-regulating if they have access to a variety of food and real permission to eat.
So, while it makes me a little twitchy, we’re going to count calories for the puppy dog, limit treats, and take her for lots of long walks. But, at the same time, we’re not going to focus too hard on weight loss. If a reasonable quantity of high-quality food and fun exercise doesn’t make her a smaller puppy dog, it’s possible that she’s just not going to be a smaller puppy dog, and I have no intention of getting sucked into the “weight loss at any cost” panic. Basically, we’ll worry about keeping her as healthy as possible, with the hope that healthy things will also lead to weight loss, which is likely to be good for a senior puppy dog’s joints and energy level.
She’s been in the shelter for a while, and she was surrendered because her people lost their house. So I imagine that she hasn’t gotten enough exercise for quite a while. And beagles don’t tend to be demanding about exercise, so it’s easy not to get them as much activity as they need physically. Our last foster, Reba, was a crazy, crashy, two-year-old pit bull. If you wanted her to be sane and not eat the couch, you would make sure she got a long walk and the chance to run around every day. Hershey Girl, on the other hand, gets excited when you put shoes on, but is pretty content to snooze on the couch all day. So, with all of that, I’m fairly confident that she’ll lose a few pounds once she has a chance to get plenty of walks.
Right now, she has kennel cough, so we won’t worry about weight stuff until she’s better. She’s currently on the all-chicken all-the-time diet because her throat seems to be bothering her and she wants nothing to do with kibble. I’m not sure Ellyn Satter’s awesome food pyramid applies to dogs, but “enough food” and “acceptable food” are definitely the first priority. And we’re being very conscientious about not pushing it on walks, because exercise aggravates the coughing. This is part of where health takes priority over weight.