Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Do Dogs Overeat to Compensate?

In December of 2012 a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research  entitled, Stress-induced and emotional eating in animals: A review of the experimental evidence and implications for companion animal obesity , authored by veterinarian Dr. Franklin McMillan currently of the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.

Short recap of Dr. McMillan’s study abstract: “… because emotional eating is a coping mechanism, overeating may be a sign that an animal's psychological well-being is impaired." See below for abstract.

The concept is foreign and unaccepted by some but I believe the study has merit. Ask yourself this:

Would you ask your toddler to stay still by themselves every day for 8 to 10 hours with no human interaction? Then when you return home would you either immediately put them outside to potty? Or have them cross their legs until you situate yourself to take them for a quick walk?

Yet many guardians of animals unthinkingly do this, what they would not do with a child. This neglect causes your animal companion undue emotional stress. Because we all believe our animal companions have emotions and needs, right?

If you said no you should be ashamed. Our animal companions need interaction and exercise. We know that stress negatively impacts humans. Chronic stress impacts our emotional well being, increases levels of cortisol, leads to high blood pressure, digestive distress, aggression, irritability and over eating.  The same is true  for our pets, animals in zoos etc.

One of my biggest soapbox moments was when someone I worked with told me he was getting an 'outside dog'. And the dog was fed and had shelter but was left alone. An animal is not a yard ornament. Our responsibility to animals is to protect and care. Care for their physical and emotional well-being.

This is true for dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, pigs and a host of other animal companions.  Is over eating only stress related? I say No. But the stress factor needs to be investigated and considered. If your pet is overweight take them to the vet to check for or rule out an underlying health concern.  Even if stress is not the cause of overeating or your pet isn't overweight - they still need interaction, affection and exercise.

From article in The Telegraph and interview with McMillan:

"By simply putting an “emotional eater” cat or dog on a diet, they could worsen the situation, by taking away the animal’s “coping mechanism” and making the animal even more unhappy - and even hungrier.

Dr. McMillan, said: “The bottom line is that there is a ton of evidence in humans and animals like rodents that stress induced eating, or emotional eating is a very real thing and contributes to obesity, so we should be looking at it in pet animals. 

“If this is a major factor in our pet animals, then the standard approach, by simply yanking away their food, is very misguided and potentially harmful. "

What do you think?

Enrich your animal companions life. Be the Change! Be that Person.
 The abstract: "Eating in response to stress or negative emotional states is well-documented in humans as well as animals in experimental settings and has been shown to work by alleviating the unpleasant emotional experience. This type of eating behavior, termed stress-induced or emotional eating, is linked to the development of obesity. Standard approaches to companion animal obesity have failed to incorporate this concept. Not every animal given more food than they need will become overweight, which raises the critical question: Why does the animal that overeats do so? If it is to help alleviate stress or negative emotional states, then the standard obesity management approach of restricting food intake without alleviating the emotional distress may actually exacerbate the distress by removing one of the animal's coping mechanisms. Moreover, because emotional eating is a coping mechanism, overeating may be a sign that an animal's psychological well-being is impaired."


  1. its normally our fault when you have an over weight pet,we give it to much food and don't exercise it enough,then give it more food and treats to keep it quiet,then the pet thinks food and treats are us giving it attention,as I said Our fault,apart from the odd case where the is a medical problem involved,xx Rachel

  2. I thought I had responded to this, my apologies for the delay. I agree with you, usually it is human fault either way. That is why I keep up the fight to educate and fight for animal rights. I want to Be The Change.


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