Doggie on a Diet

[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.

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12 thoughts on “Doggie on a Diet

  1. […] the puppy dog, limit treats, and take her for lots of long walks. … See the rest here: Doggie on a Diet « Kelly Thinks Too Much ← The Beagle Brigade | the Smell of […]

  2. Buttercup says:

    Corgis are the kind of dogs who will eat anything in sight and whine for more. I’ve had great success with the green bean diet for dogs-just sub out 1/2 to 1/3 of their kibble with frozen green beans. Crunchy, low calorie, and they get filled up. Plus they love them. Another thing to do is go to a very high quality high protein food if that’s not what you’re already feeding. Dogs don’t naturally eat grain and kibble that has lots of grain content can make a dog fatter than it would be otherwise.
    I understand the conflation thing-we have a fat kitty who eats the same as the two not-fat kitties. We did the high protein food for them and he slimmed down a bit and the other two stayed the same. (but got more glossy!) Dogs and cats aren’t people and sometimes we do need to adjust what they eat.

    • KellyK says:

      Thank you! We’re currently feeding Taste of the Wild, so it’s pretty high-quality and grain free. Once she’s feeling better, I’ll see what she thinks of frozen green beans. I know Diamond occasionally likes raw carrots.

  3. kprofou says:

    Try soaking the kibble in water it’ll soften up so the dog can eat it. Our dog was sick and couldn’t eat anything crunchy, so we started him on chicken, then kibble soaked in beef broth, then just kibble soaked in water.

    Our dogs are really good about regulating their food. We leave a food bowl out for them all day and sometimes they eat every piece of kibble in the bowl and sometimes there’s nearly a full bowl left. Which I take as more proof that Ellyn Satter is a freaking genius.

  4. O.C. says:

    Feel a little better knowing that beagles are among the most ravenous dogs! We had a beagle who, once she’d licked clean the inside of a glass peanut butter jar, kept on going and ate 1/4″ of glass from the top rim of the jar. (She survived, none the worse for wear.) And I remember seeing a TV show about beagles that talked about one of them dragging a Thanksgiving turkey off the counter and eating the whole thing. Beagles are HUNGRY! 🙂

    • maggiemunkee says:

      my family had a beagle for fourteen years. they are VERY food-motivated. our little jerkface would run away only because he knew that we would use lunch meat or hotdogs to lure him back. and heaven help you if you left a granola bar wrapper in your purse on the floor. you’d have to wrestle it away from him.

  5. KellyK says:

    A whole turkey? Wow, that’s impressive. And kinda scary.

  6. Meowser says:

    What kills me is that even if your fat pet loses weight, a lot of the time it won’t be enough weight to satisfy the vet. Zevon lost 10 pounds (the equivalent of me losing about 100!) when we took him off dry food, which he loved but was giving him all kinds of tummy trouble. He went from 33 pounds to 23, most of which was probably bloating rather than actual fat. I was actually a little freaked out by that magnitude of loss, to tell you the truth, because they always tell you that it could be indicative of organ failure, but everything was fine, and the vet said he wanted Zevon to lose another 10! That didn’t happen. That was over 2 years ago, and now he’s just a 23-pound cat who’s feeling a lot better, thanks. That’ll have to be good enough for them.

    • KellyK says:

      Yeah, a 10 pound loss in a cat is a little scary, and I’m amazed the vet wanted him to lose another 10. That’s part of what I really don’t want to fall into with Hershey Girl–the idea that if some weight loss is good, more must be better, and if you can take some off in a healthy way, you can automatically take more off without doing anything unhealthy.

      I was worried that the vet was going to give us grief that Haley was still a fat kitty after we switched to canned food, but he was happy that they’d both lost a couple pounds.

  7. […] Girl, our foster dog (who I mentioned in my last post), is mostly over her kennel cough. Yay! She has more energy and is no longer having difficulty […]

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