Body dysmorphism by proxy – the pet obesity epidemic

It is been hammered into us over recent years by the news media: there is a pet obesity epidemic in the UK and USA. I’ve seen various data on the percentage of cats (my area of operation) that are obese as stated by veterinarians and it’s around 50% both in the UK and USA. The PDSA in the UK introduced a body conditioning scoring method to keep a record of cats’ body condition as weight alone does not tell the full story.

Too many cat owners are feeding their cats too much. That’s the main cause and the secondary cause is that cats are not getting enough exercise to burn those extra calories.

The interMDnet Corporation in America says that over 90% of obese owners think that their cat is a normal weight, as discovered in a survey of pet owners. They say that some professionals are calling it the Fat Pet Gap. I guess they mean that this is a gap between actuality and perception. The owner perceives a normal weight cat but the actuality is that the cat is fat.

Overfed, captive and inactive pet caracal is made to look like a dunce
Overfed, captive and inactive pet caracal is made to look like a dunce. This pet wild cat is actually in Latvia. Photo: Instragram.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

RELATED: Meet Pumba, the fat, pet caracal of Latvia who wants to escape

And Dr. Steve Budesberg, veterinary orthopaedic specialist and Director of Clinical Research for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, said that when a veterinarian tells his client that their cat or dog needs to lose weight, they don’t believe it.

This, then, is body dysmorphism by proxy. “Dysmorphism” normally applies to a condition whereby people can’t stop themselves thinking about a perceived flaw in their body. People with dysmorphism are obsessed with their appearance and an aspect of it.

On my understanding, ‘body dysmorphism by proxy’ means is that people with a distorted perception of their appearance project this to their companion animal. It may be a dysmorphism which applies both to them and their companion animal at the same time.

This distorted perception allows the person to normalise obesity whereby when they look at themselves in the mirror, they don’t see an obese person but a normal-weight person. In the same vein, when they look at their companion cat, they don’t see obesity but a normal-weight cat.

They are unable to view things objectively. Normally dysmorphism is an inherited mental health issue but I would argue that in relation to this topic of normalising pet weight is not so much a mental health issue but a kind of defensive issue to hide from their minds the fact that they are overeating and are, on many occasions, morbidly obese.

And this mentality is sometimes supported by online websites and news media which promote the idea that one should be proud of one’s body. These sites promote self-esteem. Perhaps it is self-esteem building organisations and websites which overlook the physically damaging effects of obesity while focusing on mental health.

RELATED: Lack of self-discipline is the main cause of obesity in pets

One online writer says that the big website BuzzFeed has celebrated obesity for a long time and is one of the most liberal sites on the Internet. His article was written in 2017. Today, social media sites such as TikTok celebrate cat obesity. Some owners keep their cats very obese and make fun of them with ‘amusing’ videos. It is shameful. Fat cats are funny. It just happens to be damned unhealthy too. They don’t understand this. There is a certain amount of ignorance surrounding pet obesity.

This video is using feline obesity as a form of entertainment.


She is just too cute ???? #catsoftiktok #trending #fyp #cuteness

♬ original sound – qlchan

Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source or the video is turned into a link which stops it working here. I have no control over this.

Clearly, too many people are pleasure eating. They are not eating when hungry but when they want to experience the pleasure of eating. They combine it with a lack of exercise. Another author suggests that Americans are too obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. Eating generates instant happiness.

Some cat owners want to make their cat bored, indoor cat happy and so they give them high carb treats. Their cat ends up begging for treats and they give in. It seems that some cat owners have projected their method of finding instant happiness through eating onto their cat.

There are other issues. When you get older your metabolism slows down and you’ve got to eat less. People have over the previous years learned to eat a certain amount and it becomes too much in old age. The habit of eating a certain amount can’t be broken.

It seems that obesity is accepted in society or is not frowned upon enough. And it’s been around so long that people have normalised it. When you normalise it for yourself you normalise it for your companion animal.

How do you break the cycle? It is deeply ingrained. I don’t see a way out of it myself. There’s been a pretty rapid increase in feline diabetes due to pet obesity just as there has been for humans in these countries. There is a long list of diseases caused by diabetes and therefore it is a major health problem.

RELATED: Veterinarians are failing patients in pet obesity epidemic

As long as cat owners are obese and as long as they normalise obesity, they will never achieve full health in their cat going forward.

There seems to be a blank denial by some people about their cat being obese. I can remember a page I wrote about a pet caracal (see picture above) that was and probably still is obese. The person didn’t realise it. A woman on TikTok videoed her ginger cat amusingly sitting up on his haunches. She was surprised to see a lot of comments criticising her for allowing her cat to become obese. She said that he was healthy. That’s normalising obesity.

P.S. Neutering male cats slows metabolism. Neutered cats should be on a permanent reduced diet.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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