A fascinating new study published in the International Journal of Obesity has confirmed that fat bias, which has been well documented in physician patient relationships, extends to veterinarians and obese and dogs.

The problem that obese or overweight human patients face in the medical system is that physicians and other health care providers tend to look at all their patient’s medical problems as being directly caused by the patient’s weight. They are, in effect, blinded to other causes of the problem and as a result, obese and overweight patients often receive substandard care, including misdiagnosis.

The study, spearheaded by Rebecca Pearl of the Department of Psychiatry at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania looked at both practicing and student veterinarians and examined their emotional responses to photographs of four groups: an obese dog with a lean owner, an obese dog with an obese owner, a lean dog with a lean owner and a lean dog with an obese owner.

The results were clear. Both the practicing veterinarians as well as the students exhibited a strong anit-fat bias toward the obese dogs and obese owners.

Because of this potentially dangerous pre-judgement, veterinarians run the very real risk of closing off their minds to other diagnostic considerations when assessing a dog’s health problem and blame the condition solely on the dog’s weight.

No one is suggesting that obesity in dogs, or in humans is healthy, as we certainly have enough evidence to the contrary, but this study is important as it points out the dangers of close minded thinking when it comes to diagnosing dogs who are overweight or obese.

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