When we heard that Yummers was refusing to eat, everyone in the clinic got worried. It was with relief and confusion that we saw Yummers bound into the clinic—as plump as ever. For a dog that wasn’t eating, Yummers appear to have plenty of meals ‘stored’ away.
“This is just terrible,” said his worried owner. “He hasn’t eaten anything in two days.” The round dog sat up and started begging as the owner spoke. I ignored his not-so-subtle glances toward the Treat Jar. Deciding that I must be stupid, Yummers gave up and jumped in his owner’s lap. She let out an audible “ugh” as Yummers landed—he is a “stout” little fellow.
“So, Yummers isn’t eating?”
“He refuses to eat his new dog food, unless I ‘flavor’ it with a little chicken, beef, lunch meat, water, or milk. Sometimes, for variety, I’ll add cheese, too.”
“How long ago did you change to the new dog food?”
“Six months ago.”
“Have you considered that maybe he should just eat dog food—and dog food only. After all, those extra flavors your adding are making him---“
“—big boned,” interrupted his owner. “Yummers isn’t fat, because I only feed him once a day.”
“Even once-a-day eaters can get fat—especially if they don’t burn any calories in between meals. What does Yummers do, besides eating, I mean?”
“Wait for snack time.”
“Do you take him for a walk? Does he play?”
“No, Yummers doesn’t like walking or playing.”
This was not a medical mystery, Yummers was too fat to comfortably walk or play. Unfortunately, eating had become the fat dog’s only source of entertainment.
The owner continued, “I don’t want him to starve.”
“Do you really, really think that Yummers will starve if you don’t put some extra ‘flavor’ in his food?”
“Oh, I’ve tried. For two days, I’ve given him nothing but dog food, and for two days, he won’t eat. Besides, he stares at me and makes me feel guilty if he doesn’t like the flavor of his food.”
“Let me ask you again. If Yummers had a choice—eat dog food or starve to death, do you really think he’d choose starvation?”
“Well . . . probably not. But he won’t eat dog food.”
“Yummers has trained you to feed him people food. He knows that after two days you’ll give in to his demands. This plump little dog has you wrapped around his plump little paw.”
The owner looked embarrassed when she realized this was the truth. “But if I don’t feed him what he wants, then he’ll think I don’t love him.”
“Not true. Yummers is just trying to get the tastiest food possible. If he no longer has a choice between dog food or all of the extra “flavors” that you add, then he’ll gradually adjust. If you really love Yummers and you want him to live a long and healthy life, then you need to change his eating habits now. Starting today.”
“I do love him and I do want him to live a long time,” said the owner.
“Then are you ready to do what it takes?”
The owner thought for a moment of how her life would be without Yummers. Then she nodded resolutely, “Just tell me what to do.”
In the end, Yummers’ transition from people food to dog food really wasn’t that difficult. Yummers still got to cheat with occasional vegetables and fruit, but he didn’t get any more meat, chicken, milk, cheese, potato chips, etc.
As Yummers lost weight, he became more playful and enjoyed going for walks again. Yummers’ happiness was no longer measured by the fullness of his dish. Instead, a slimmer and more energetic Yummers got to go places and do fun things with his favorite person. Now that’s a happy ending!