I’m honored to be called up to contribute my veterinary perspective to articles written by my fellow pet media cohorts. My friend Nikki Moustaki published this article about her dog’s weight issues on DogChannel.com: I’m Not Fat, Baby, I Was Born This Way via DogChannel.com
Pearl is a fluffy, intelligent Benji-type shelter-mutt who waddles a little when she walks, and is still exuberantly puppy-ish at nearly three years old. She has the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a dog, which curve gracefully over her tiny brown eyes. But her most striking feature is her ample, cobby, barrel shaped body. That’s what gets her the most attention in our mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Miami Beach where I live for most of the year, when I’m not in New York City.
“Gordita!” the neighbors exclaim as Pearl bounces toward them and flops over on her back for a belly rub, tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. “Mucho comida, gordita,” they say in a dark tone as they pat her belly like a drum, which translates roughly to, “A lot of food, little fatty.”
My inner emoticon changes to a frowny face whenever I hear “gordita” referring to Pearl. When I look at Pearl I see a dainty princess (never mind that she eats poop). I don’t see what they’re seeing. She’s not fat. She’s plus size. She’s floppy. She’s husky. She was born this way. “Pearl,” I say to her, “Love your body!”
Here’s how I know that Pearl isn’t “fat”: Pearl weighs 32 pounds and is much taller than the other two dogs; Pepper weighs 18 pounds; Zoey weighs 20 pounds. They all eat the same amount of food and get the same amount of exercise. Pepper and Zoey have bodies that an Olympic swimmer would envy. They are both Miniature Schnauzers with muscular, tucked up tummies, a slim waist and ribs you can nearly see (when they aren’t fluffy).
To find out once and for all if Pearl is fat or just “fluffy,” I consulted my veterinarian friend, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, in Los Angeles. He spent time with Pearl last year and knows her well (though that was 5 pounds ago on roly-poly Pearl).
“As every dog has unique genetics, they each have a unique metabolism,” said Mahaney. “Some dogs maintain a lean body condition throughout their lives, while others are more prone to carrying excess weight.”
“We don’t know without doing a genetic test on Pearl what mix of breeds she is, we can only speculate on what she looks like,” he said. “Her genetics could include a breed that is prone to carrying excess weight and still be normal. A Pug, for example, or a Beagle or Bulldog, are breeds that are more prone to carrying excess weight, and while we want to do our best to keep them trim, we must realize that these pets will never be Kate Moss.”
Dr. Mahaney referred me to a dog weight condition chart (easily found by doing a Google search) and asked me to try it. The first thing to do is stand over the dog and look at her from the top to see what her waist looks like.
“All I see is fur,” I said.
“Look at her when she’s wet from getting a bath,” he said. “When you are looking at her from the top, she should come to a waist after her last rib.”
I could feel Mahaney dropping off of Pearl’s friend list just as the word “bath” came out of his mouth. Pearl would rather be fat than clean.
Then Mahaney suggested that I might be just a little too protective of Pearl in this area.
“We all think our pets are perfect and nothing needs to change, but if we get the perspective of a veterinarian who understands and can recognize when our pets are overweight, then we can make small behavioral and nutritional changes to improve our pets’ health,” he said.
I looked at Pearl. Nope, she’s perfect.
“Weight can be a problem if it results in secondary health conditions like arthritis, heart disease, skin problems, and digestive tract problems, like constipation,” he continued. “Dogs can carry excess weight and not have weight-related secondary diseases because their body is better able to handle stressors. Perhaps Pearl’s joints are healthier and are better able to absorb shock from walking on the New York City streets.”
Right, I liked that. Pearl was just born this way. This is her body type. Still . . . when I felt for her ribs as the condition chart suggested . . . what ribs? Pearl was clearly also born without ribs.
Ok, maybe it’s time for me to concede that Pearl needs to lose a little weight. But overall, I do believe that some dogs, like some humans, are just “born this way.” I want my darling “gordita” Pearl to live a long, happy life with no complications due to something as preventable as weight-related health conditions, so I’ll cut back on the snacks and get to the dog park more if that will help. Still, I’m sure that my plus size gal is genetically prone to being barrel-shaped. Pearl, love your body!
Thank you for reading this article. Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2012) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.