Fat or Just Fluffy ?

Pet obesity is no laughing matter. Purina completed an extensive research project a few years ago demonstrating just how devastating obesity can be to your pet’s health and quality of life. If you allow your dog or cat to be chronically overweight or obese, you are effectively reducing your pet’s lifespan by 2 full years. The tragic truth about pet obesity, is that it is totally preventable. Our pets do not  rely on will power to maintain a healthy body weight. They don’t require the self discipline to exercise regularly. Our pets  rely on us to feed them the appropriate amount of nutrititous food and to make certain that they get regular exercise. I am constantly questioned about the best food, nutritional supplements, etc., to help pets live longer and healthier lives. My answer is always to emphasize that maintaining a healthy body weight is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing a pet owner can do to ensure a long and healthy life together. Overweight pets are at greater risk for all forms of arthritis and joint disease. Obese and overweight pets are also at greater risk to develop diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease and even cancer.

The magnitude of the problem is staggering. Nearly 1/2 of all pets in this country are overweight and approximately 10% are obese. Pet obesity is so prevalent that many pet owners perceive their overweight pets as normal. Convincing these pet owners of the need to place their pets on a diet is a constant struggle. I recently examined a very fit 4 year old dog. After complimenting the owner for keeping her dog lean and fit, she actually asked me for a letter stating that her dog was at an ideal body weight. She wanted to give the letter to a neighbor to stop her from complaining that the dog was underweight.

We try to weigh pets at every visit and help owners develop healthy  feeding habits for their pets. We note each pets BCS (body condition score) on a scale of 1-9. 5 is considered ideal. We want to avoid scores less than 4 or greater than 6. If your pet is becoming overweight we will discuss the best steps to stabilize and then reduce your pet’s weight into a healthy range. Treats are often a big culprit. Commercial pet treats are appealing for the same reason as the “junk food” we enjoy-high sugar, high fat and high salt. Giving pets occasional treats is OK. But, treat selection and portion control is critical. My dogs get very excited about small pieces of crackers and pretzels. We all enjoy treat time without busting the diet. Portion control is just as important with your pet’s regular meals. Very few pets maintain an ideal body weight when food is always available. We recommend feeding a fixed amount of food twice daily. Ideally, use a measuring cup for consistency. Monitor your pet’s weight regularly. Digital bathroom scales can be very effective for smaller pets. We are happy to weigh and record your pets weight at no charge as often as you like. You should know your pet’s ideal weight and strive to stay within 5-10% of this weight.

When presented with a dog that is overweight, I ask owners to eliminate excessive treats and either start the pet on a diet dog food, or try the “green bean” diet (GBD). The GBD is simple. Reduce the amount of dog food by half and replace it with an equal volume of canned green beans. If at all possible, institute a 30 minute brisk walk (or equivalent exercise) every day. Dogs rarely fail to lose weight on this regime. Owners report that most dogs enjoy the green beans and often consume the beans before the dog food. Most dogs do not perceive that their calories have been reduced. Pet owners are amazed at the increased activity and vigor of dogs with even modest weight loss. We like to track weight loss with regular “weigh ins”. If dogs are losing weight too rapidly (Yes! This actually happens.) we simply change the ratio of food to green beans. We continue to make adjustments until the target weight is achieved and may continue using some green beans in the weight maintenance phase. It can take up to 2 years for the metabolism of an obese pet to totally adjust to the new lean body weight. If owners fail to maintain strict dietary control and regular exercise, weight gain may occur rapidly. After 2 years, the metabolism adjusts and the healthy body weight is more easily maintained. This should not discourage efforts to correct your pets obesity, but it should serve as a warning to owners of younger pets. Avoiding obesity is far  easier than correcting obesity. Track your pet’s weight regularly and call us if you need advice or help in maintaining your pet at a healthy body weight. It could be the difference in spending 2 extra years with your pet !

Check back soon for some weight control strategies for your flabby felines !

Craig Wilson, DVM