It’s often assumed that pets will eat whatever they can get, and so fat animals are just a result of an owner who doesn’t know when to put down the can opener. But a team of researchers investigating animal obesity say that animals might be comfort eating to deal with stress, just the way some people do.
According to veterinarian Franklin McMillan, some animals have a tendency to overeat in response to negative stimuli like stress, boredom, anxiety, and depression. In other words, some dogs are eating their feelings.
“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,” McMillan said.
Pet obesity is a growing problem, with one study suggesting that the pet obesity rate is 25 percent among cats and as much as 45 percent among dogs, according to The Telegraph. Certain breeds, including Labrador retrievers, cairn terriers, cavalier king Charles spaniels, Scottish terriers, and cocker spaniels are particularly prone to obesity.
Obesity in pets is normally treated by reducing their food supply or prescribing diet pet food, but McMillan argues that if stress is a cause of animal obesity, getting to the root of behavioral issues would be more effective at managing the pet’s weight, and simply removing food could hurt more than it could help.
“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,” McMillan said.