Don't Say My Dog Is Too Skinny!

Patty Khuly Holding Two French Bulldogs

I was once at a dog park with my Pug mix when I overheard a gaggle of owners whisper about a bird dog in our midst: “Would you look at that? You'd think she fed him only once in a while!”

The sweet hunting dog was in tip-top shape — all glossy and muscled, like he spent most weekends hunting and swimming. Meanwhile, all the “normal” park dogs looked as if they just got off the couch.

So why the recriminations from the catty set?

I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to overhear the tongue-lashing this poor owner got. It happens all the time. Our culture is somehow stuck on the notion that fat pets are loved, while skinny pets are abused.

My Slumdog (the Pug mix) agrees he’s abused, since I keep him so slim. He aspires to obesity with all his heart and soul. He's one dog who'd eat himself to death on every bit of food he can get to. In fact, one moonless night during avocado season, I couldn’t find the stealthy bugger in the yard. When I dragged out the flashlight, I spotted him surrounded by avocado pits. Chartreuse vomit and pistachio-hued diarrhea marred my floors for days.

The point is that I’m often chastised for keeping all my dogs too thin — even publicly rebuked. People have no problem telling me that my dogs are “emaciated” and “underfed.” Which, speaking as a veterinarian, I know they aren't.

In the case of my French Bulldog, Vincent, polite people will ask why mine looks so different from the others (we attend a Frenchies-only play session). The not-so-filtered folk straight out ask: “Why is he so thin? Is he sick? Maybe you should try feeding him X food. Mine loves it.” (Often too much it seems.)

The problem goes deeper than a simple breach of decorum. I believe that what people are willing to say is often a window into how comfortable they are with a concept. In this case, I wonder if the average American’s willingness to exercise free speech on the subject of too skinny pets reveals our coziness with obesity as the status quo. And that needs to change if we expect not to kill our pets with "love."

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