As if body shaming me was not enough, random people have also been body shaming my 17-month-old Dogo Argentino, Khal Dogo. “He is too thin, doesn’t look like he is a khate pite ghar ka (a family that has no dearth of food)," said some. “Why are his ribs visible,” asked another, asking if we were not “feeding him enough”.
Thankfully of course, Khal couldn’t care less. But it bothered us. What added to the problem was a dog show in which we had enrolled Khal. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake. Apart from being terribly organised, which packed many pets and their humans in a sweaty and non-air-conditioned hall that was threatening to burst at its seams, the show had also exposed us to the brutal world of dog pageantry. Here, the dog’s appearance reigns supreme.
I have to admit here that I am guilty of being part of this problem, too. I bought Khal from a breeder instead of going the adoption route. But that story is for another day.
Back at the dog show, a supposedly respectable judge told my husband that our dog is strictly average-looking and is lanky.
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His judgement seriously made my husband and me question the food plan we had in place for Khal – we were second-guessing it despite our meticulous research about his dietary needs, down to exactly how many grams of proteins, fats, fibre, etc, our carnivore needs every day. Apart from quinoa, cream cheese, special peanut butter, boiled vegetables, a pinch of salt and cinnamon, a whole egg and rice, we even made an exception for him, bringing raw meat into a strictly vegetarian household. We also meticulously measure his food on a weighing scale every day. Not one gram more nor less.
Yet, we wondered if we were not feeding him enough. We felt guilty about it. When we consulted a nutritionist and a couple of veterinarians, we observed that they each had different ideas about pet diet and nutrition: “Don’t feed raw," said one. “Feed raw,” said another. “Don’t feed chicken.” “Feed chicken.” “Increase his protein intake.” “Not protein, increase his fat intake.” And so on.
Totally confused and unsure about what to do, we ended up trying to follow everyone’s advice all at once. One morning Khal got 200 grams of cream cheese at a go, and the poor thing had to run outside the house four times instead of the usual two to relieve himself, of course, us in tow. After a few days he was given, both, chicken and mutton, and he broke out into boils – allergy we later learnt. While he was suffering, we were losing money and sleep.
One evening, while watching Khal fast asleep, my husband and I asked ourselves, is Khal one of the most energetic dogs we know? Yes. Does he outrun every other dog in the dog park and is almost always ready for a walk, or for playtime? Yes. Is his coat soft and healthy? Yes. Is he an irritable dog? No. Does he have aggression issues? No. Most importantly, does he fall sick often? No. “A healthy, shiny coat, a dog’s energy levels and his mood are good indicators of whether a pet parent is feeding the dog right or not,” says Chandigarh-based pet nutritionist Geet Rao. All of these applied to Khal.
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“So, please don’t judge a dog merely by his looks, and especially do not compare (a dog's body) with a human body,” says veterinarian Nikita Mastakar. “A dog whose ribs are visible is not necessarily underfed or thin and lanky,” she adds. According to Rao, many dog’s structures are such that it can seem like their ribs are sticking out, or it can seem that their bodies look thin because of their huge heads. A dog’s body structure also depends on his build, genetics, and how much is he exercised every day.
Many of us tend to fall into the trap, as we did, of being impacted by others' judgement of our dog’s appearance – we end up doing things (like overfeeding our puppies) which could result in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, or weak bones, and digestion issues.
I would say it’s best to seek advice from an expert whom you trust, and design a diet plan that best suits your dog. “It is usually believed that dogs must be fed non-vegetarian food," says Rao. "But I know of dogs that prefer and are better off eating nutritious, vegetarian food. So, don’t be influenced by others and do what’s best for you and your furry baby.”
My husband and I learnt this lesson the hard way. Now, we are no longer bothered about how he looks, but how he feels. And that has made us more confident and less guilty pet parents. Now, if someone tells us our dog is thin, we simply say, “yes, but he is healthy and happy.”
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent