The internet is obsessed with animals. Everywhere you look you can find a meme, picture or video that has something to do with animals being cute, funny, adorable or all of the above all at once. Even more so, internet culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of a “chonky animal,” or an animal that is either overweight or obese. The idea behind the love is simply that these chunky animals are sweeter and cuddlier than their healthy counterparts.
However, the obesity epidemic in domesticated pets (i.e. cats and dogs) in the United States is similar to the obesity epidemic affecting humans. With over half of U.S. domesticated cats and dogs being overweight or obese, there is a need to address this issue. NC State, with its strong undergraduate animal science program as well as its nationally ranked veterinary college, has a key role in helping create the cultural change necessary to reduce the animal obesity statistics.
A recent study found that nearly 80% of veterinarians and 68% of pet owners reported they tried to help their pets lose weight through calorie deficits and increased exercise. Although this exemplifies that there are efforts to try and reduce overweight and obese animals’ weights to help prevent negative health outcomes created by unhealthy weight, I still believe that one of the largest issues holding back our pet owners and society from truly decreasing pet obesity is the culture of loving “chonky animals” online.
When online, often the obese animals are praised or circulated throughout social media for entertainment. But similar to other topics of unhealthy behaviors, circulating images and stories about unhealthy animals creates a perception that these unhealthy animals with abnormal weights are okay and could even lead to people wanting some of these animals to own.
Jacob Wells, a second-year studying animal science, said obese animals should not be affirmed.
“Though fat animals may seem cute, a severely obese animal is just as unhealthy as the severely emaciated animals you see on the ASPCA campaign advertisements” Wells said. “A sane person wouldn’t purposefully underfeed their animal because it’s inhumane, so this same logic should be applied to overfeeding.”
Although one might think it’s adorable to have a fat pet and think they’re treating it well by overfeeding and/or giving it lots of treats, this really is a disservice. Wells continued by proposing some advice that he’s learned through his animal work experience and through his classes at NC State.
“If your animal is overweight and you are interested in trying to get your pet to lose some weight (as you should), increasing fiber and decreasing fat and protein can help your animal decrease weight, though you should first talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet,” Wells said.
If our community truly wants to make a sustainable, long-term change in the culture surrounding pet health, then we need to stop glorifying the fat, cute animals we see on social media. By doing this, we are able to stop the spreading of misinformation and decrease the number of people being convinced that obese animals are okay. Although the classic “chonky animal” memes and videos can be entertaining at times, it is up to our community to put our paws down and stop encouraging unhealthy weight in our pets.