In the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat(Vintage), writer Mireille Guiliano explains how les femmes françaises indulge in baguettes, champagne and chocolate without sacrificing their ability to slip into their curve-hugging sweaters. The question now is: Does the seemingly miraculous European food effect carry over to continental canines?
In America, the issue of fat versus thin gets a lot of press these days, but more often than not, it’s in reference to us and not to what veterinarians are saying about the big, fat problem of American canines. Below, Trisha Joyce, DVM at New York City Veterinary Specialists, weighs in on fatness and fitness in dogs across the globe and offers ways to make your dog très,très fit and healthy.
International Dog Diets
Like human preferences, pet tastes are influenced by cultural surroundings. “Dogs that live in households with people of Japanese or French or American descent will get table scraps and acquire the same preferences and tolerance for that kind of cuisine,” says Joyce. “In my practice, I see dogs that don’t get spicy food often who eat an Italian sausage and show up at my door 24 hours later with colitis, while dogs that are used to fatty, spicy foods are much less sensitive to it.”
In industrialized countries, though, commercial dog food is similar or often exactly the same as what’s available in the states. “When I was in Japan, I saw Iams and Science Diet,” says Joyce. “There’s probably someone making commercial Japanese dog food, too, but the biggest companies are international.”
Priming Your Dog’s Palate
If experience shapes preferences, should you be sharing your favorite dish with your favorite dog? No way, says Joyce. “Veterinarians in this country, myself included, tend to be pretty strict about not feeding people food to dogs. It contributes to obesity and other related health problems.”
Around the world, though, the food practices can vary. “In other cultures, it may be a little looser,” Joyce says. “The traditional role of dogs was to clean up the extra food, and some older societies still relegate them to that position. In certain cultures, they’re still considered scavengers.” She adds that a different trend is occurring in America. “In the U.S., our dogs have evolved into being family members, with the unfortunate side effect of being overfed.”
So Are American Dogs Fatter?
If feeding table scraps leads to obesity, and veterinarians outside of the U.S. tend to be less, ahem, dogmatic about feeding people food, shouldn’t it stand to reason that dogs in other industrialized countries would be heavier? Guess again. While there is no hard-and-fast data comparing the dogs’ weights country-by-country, Joyce hazards a guess that American dogs are more likely to get fat.
“Obesity is a huge problem in pets in this country. People who are heavier tend to have heavier children, and probably are also more prone to having heavy pets,” says Joyce, who indicates the weight gain may have to do with inactive lifestyles and overfeeding. While French women may indulge in chocolates and cheese, they stay fit by eating rich foods in moderation and consuming smaller portions.
How to Keep Your Dog Fit
In the fight against fat on Fido, your veterinarian is truly man’s best friend. Your dog’s doctor can give you an ideal weight range for your pet and suggest ways of helping it reach or maintain that goal. Most veterinarians will go as far as offering a meal plan, which is easy enough to do when kibble or canned food is the diet mainstay. But limiting your pet’s caloric intake might also require examining your own eating habits.
“If a pet owner uses food as a way to soothe and reward himself,” says Joyce, “he is likely to soothe and reward his animals in the same way. I have clients who say, ‘I felt sorry for him. He was alone all day, so I gave him a few treats.’”
To combat this, Joyce recommends thinking twice, or even three times, before using food as a quick way to make your furry friend happy. “Trust me, your dog would rather go outside and play,” she says.
As the thinnest of the French doggies will surely tell you, a romp in the park is better than even the stinkiest cheese