Americans love their pets; there is no questioning that fact. With the Humane Society of the United States estimating national dog ownership rates at 39 percent and cat ownership rates at 33 percent, many TCU students should have many memories with their own pet or one of a family member or friend.
Pets are extensions of each owner’s heart, a source of love, attention, play or even ignorance and control. Americans play with them, walk them, dress them up, spend thousands on their veterinary operations and watch celebrities tote them around in matching outfits.
The more technology-savvy find cute pets online, the service-oriented volunteer works at animal shelters, the cultured spend thousands on breeding, and the mildly obsessed watch YouTube videos of singing cats, skateboarding dogs, piano-playing hamsters and warring guinea pigs. But what happens when pet indulgence goes too far?
Recent research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found more than half of America’s dogs and cats to be overweight or obese. While pet obesity may seem of passing interest, reserved for an Antonio Banderas-voiced Puss in Boots and Disney characters of yesteryear, think again before finding the data unimportant.
The most important lesson of pet obesity is its reflection on owners and society. A 2008 study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine explained that total physical activity and health among dog owners varied directly with how often owners walked their pooches.
Less active dogs will have higher obesity rates, therefore demonstrating that pet obesity is an important indicator of human health. One would expect, then, pet obesity rates and American obesity rates to correlate. Looking at pet health numbers, then, should lead owners and non-owners alike to consider the consequences of poor health habits on pets.
Another affected group is children. Think of all the sentimental family videos and photos of the family babies and toddlers who were either playing or lying with pets. One thing is certain about obese pets, especially cats: they really don’t take kindly to moving around. This is problematic for the very hopeful toddler looking for playtime.
Considering costly rising childhood obesity rates and first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to slow the trend, the influence of pet activity on childhood habits must be considered.
As adult health affects pet health, pet health affects child health. It is therefore the responsibility of thinking adults to make better lifestyle choices to help Fido and set an example for childhood development.
Finally, think of the pets themselves. What sort of impact does obesity have on a pet that often may not even have the free will to go outside to sate the biologically-ingrained need for movement? Humans have been responsible for the care and well-being of domesticated animals ever since dogs gravitated toward settlements thousands of years ago.
But, someone might think, what about the viral links to photos and videos of fat pets that provide so much entertainment? A sociological theory called Healthy at Every Size lets everyone feel better gawking at a thoroughly self-satisfied fifty-plus pound cat. The cat wants it, right?
In reality, consider the treatment you give pets. Understand their willful dependence on humans and the responsibility to care for them in return. Realize that unhealthy pets turn a mirror right back on the owner and have harmful effects on children.
Or next time, just give Bitsy one scrap instead of the whole plate and give Max a good belly rub instead of treats.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.