Food Obsessions In Pets and How To Tame Them

Pet care & safety
Managing your pet's food intake from an early age will help avoid obesity later in life.

In case you’ve never heard a veterinarian complain bitterly, let me initiate you to the art of the veterinary rant with this post:

There is nothing worse than spending twenty minutes convincing an owner that his pet is overweight, another ten calculating a pet’s ideal caloric intake in the context of his selected diet, and another five detailing how weight loss is best achieved in concert with exercise …

… only to have the same client come back a few months later with a pet that’s gained yet another ten percent of his body weight in over-fed, under-exercised, pet owner-aided and abetted blubber.

What’s worse is being told that all our scientific exhortations and computations mean naught in the face of simple animal behavior:

“But she’s always so hungry!”

Or worse:

“What am I supposed to do? It’s the only thing that makes him happy.”

Is it any wonder some of us throw up our hands in disgust whenever we’re faced with yet another fat pet? (And there are SO many!)

Do these people not get that pets are increasingly succumbing to a huge range of health issues as a direct result of excess weight? That outright obesity has become almost the new normal among our indoor animals? Given these obvious findings, how can they not equate obesity with abuse?

The answer? They consider denying their pets access to the food they so clearly adore a greater abuse than the excess poundage they’ll inevitably put on.

Sigh … What’s a responsible veterinarian to do? That is, when she’s not complaining about it?

In this case, all she can do –– beyond detailing the reasons why the kind of short-term thinking they’re engaging in is cutting sharply into their pet’s longevity –– is help them get past their pets’ food obsession.

To that end, here’s a brief list of how-tos when it comes to how not to give in to your pets’ food obsessions:

#1 Build a solid foundation

Pets with a tendency towards weight gain (in my experience, about 90% or so) should be fed on a schedule to help manage a pet’s expectations on the food front. It’s not rocket science, but it can seem like it once the problem gets away from you and you’ve got a fat pet to manage in its aftermath. That’s why I always recommend that pet owners …

#2 Start early!

It’s crucial for all pet owners to understand that when they give in to pets’ “hunger” impulses early on, they’re laying the groundwork for a relationship beset by a never ending series of “Feed me!” moments. When everyone in the family understands this, humans and their pets have an easier time of it in the long run.

#3 Redirect

This behavior is not only frustrating for pet owners, it’s depressing and annoying, too. To help alleviate the anxiety associated with begging behavior, one common method employs the redirection technique.

When a pet begs, some experts recommend taking him for a walk, putting him in his crate with a chew toy, or otherwise redirecting his attention. The key is not to reinforce the behavior with a positive, rewarding stimulus, but to redirect it towards a positive, alternate behavior. (A fine line, I know.)

#4 Get out of the kitchen…

… or wherever you’re used to feeding your pets –– especially if that’s where you spend the most time. In a great many cases, location is a big driver of behavior –– yours and theirs. Getting away from places where the begging behavior gets rewarded makes it easier to get rid of.

This is easier said than done, I know, but changing the feeding location alone can be very helpful.

#5 Don’t personalize it

Be honest with yourself: Are you having trouble because you know how you feel when you’ve got cravings? If so, recognize that this is a common human reaction that can take hard work to get past. Because while this understandable response is born of a great emotion (empathy), it doesn’t ultimately serve your pet.

If you absolutely can’t get past this feeling, perhaps it’ll help to remember how you feel when you have eating expectations: When you stop expecting food at all hours, you eventually do stop thinking about it. And that alone can improve a food-obsessed pet’s quality of life.

#6 Seek professional help

Sometimes it’s best to admit personal defeat and seek professional help instead of relying on your own flawed ways. Hiring a trainer or behaviorist is first on my list of recommendations here but for some severely affected pets, a veterinarian might be of assistance in the pharmacological department. That’s because a small percentage of food-obsessed pets actually suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder of sorts.

#7 Be patient

Whatever you do, be patient and keep trying. And remember: If your weight loss goals on behalf of your pets were easy to achieve, no pet would be overweight –– much less obese.