Ever thought about why it is we feel the urge to offer treats and tidbits to our beloved creatures? I have. I’ve thought about it a lot. After all, if I can plumb the depths of the American psyche on that one I think I’ll have earned myself a Nobel Prize––or at least a MacArthur Grant. 

Here’s a short, would-be pet story to illustrate:

Last Saturday I spent the afternoon kayaking with my beau. After spending five hours of the morning treating sickies at the hospital, I kinda thought I deserved a mini-vacation on Biscayne Bay. Little did I know that I’d be dealing with more of the same.

After a delicious kayak out to a local sand bar, a picnic and a swim, we’d headed back to the beach. After loading up for the 30-minute trek back, I spied something “unnaturally” green in the water. Paddling closer, it turned out to be an exhausted iguana. 

After fishing it out of the water, I placed it on the bow of the boyfriend’s kayak where it sat vigilantly as we paddled the waves back. Instead of jumping off the boat at the pine-treed beach, as we had predicted, it just sat there. 

And here’s where I get to my point: People soon flocked to the kayak to offer the creature tidbits and leaves (as if a spent iguana would take anything from a gaggle of too-curious onlookers). After the piece de résistance was offered (Cheez-Whiz on a Dorito), I figured I’d have to put a stop to this ridiculous charade. I put him in my car and drove to the nearest sanctuary.

But it got me to thinking: What is it about humans that we feel the need to FEED everything? It’s alive...feed it! 

  • Signs must be put up at zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and parks to keep people from throwing their half-consumed fried chicken and other picnic detritus to the animals. 
  • Feeding pigeons and ducks at parks and local lakes is considered a bucolic pastime.
  • Cat feeding out the back door or at a local parking lot is a way of life for many (sans TNR and appropriate medical care in most cases).
  • Feeding time at the zoo is always the main attraction.
  • Wildife programming on television is rife with predation scenarios and other gastronomic delights. 
  • Stuffing pets to obese proportions is deemed socially acceptable...
  • and its corollary: A thin pet is a travesty worthy of whispered puppy park sanctions. (“You’d think she’d feed him every once in a while.”)

Perhaps this is just American culture talking. The rest of the world may not live with this Cracker Barrel mentality and dietary obsessiveness. Offering “cheese food” laced with more “cheese food” to a helpless iguana probably doesn’t occur to most humans on the planet outside this fair country’s four corners. 

The egregiousness of the Dorito act is what startled me out of my post-kayak lethargy. (Never mind that I overheard plotting to get the iguana captured and sold in our local Seaquarium’s parking lot.) And it got me to thinking: 

This impulse to feed things is exactly what I’m up against in my daily life as a veterinarian. It’s no wonder that imparting a sense of urgency to the need for weight loss in pets seems so sisyphean. After all, the obesity epidemic in pets will be depressingly difficult to counter if the desire to feed is as ridiculously compulsive as the need to smear Cheez-Whiz on an iguana.