Pet owner's misplaced guilt can shorten a friend's life

What is the No. 1 killer of dogs and cats?


How's that, you ask?

Daily in the exam room I regularly am dealing with overweight and obese animals. It is sometimes touchy addressing the subject because more times than not a very corpulent owner stands before me receiving my adipose admonitions.

In explaining that all this "extra baggage" predisposes everything from metabolic disease to heart ailments and arthritis and that it generally will decrease the longevity of the owner's friend, a standard reply often goes something like this:

"But doctor, I can't just stand the way he watches me while I eat" or "I feel so guilty because she always seems hungry."

One owner described how, every time she ate, her dog would sit and stare at her. She finally devised this diversion: She would crumble a handful of hamburger into a frying pan to rapidly brown it. Next, she scattered it about the kitchen floor. This kept her little dog so busy that she could finish her meal in peace.

No, I am not guilty of making this up.

So I do what I can.

Sometimes the situation is hopeless, as in the case of some elderly pet owners whose lives revolve around feeding their little friends. In such instances, I know that they can't heed my advice so I refrain from piling guilt upon guilt.

Does a client ever hear me? Sure, sometimes.

And when I think about what I've accomplished (or, at least, tried to accomplish) it seems my therapeutic approach is founded on an intracranial injection of fear.

That fear might overcome guilt for some pragmatic health advantage seems ironic. But then again, I'm afraid, both guilt and fear often are called upon to heal a multitude of social ills, so maybe two wrongs sometimes can help to make things right.

After all, if it works for the clergy, why can't it work for veterinarians.

Dr. Jack Thornton is a semiretired veterinarian. Reach him in care of

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