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Weight Loss Plans For Dogs?! – Dr. Karen Whala

I was recently driving along a highway after a disappointing all-nighter watching the meteor-shower with some friends when some rather fat, ok, obese cows were spotted along the road. My travelling companions, not medical in the least, easily recognized adipose excess in our happy roadside cows. Their entire topline (back) was flat like a coffee-table! Hip bones were not apparent and from the rear, they looked perfectly square! The veterinarian in me marveled at how they could have gotten so robust on dry weeds and thought to myself the expensive medical conditions they would have if they were dogs (and lived long enough). Like a 30% shortened lifespan, orthopedic, skin and heart disease affecting quality of life and not to mention increased risk of diabetes and respiratory problems. All of which are expensive to treat and manage but nearly 100% avoidable
So if your furry friend is considered portly or worse obese, there are some proven methods that you can start at home to help him/her and you enjoy a longer, more active, less expensive and richer quality of life.

I have outlined the basic steps we veterinarians take to come up with an initial weight loss plan.

1. PET PARENT COMMITMENT – To a weight loss plan, this is THE most important and the most challenging step. If not all family members are on-board with helping Fido achieve a healthy weight then it will not succeed. I fondly remember an owner strongly supportive of working on weight loss plan for her beloved pet only to have her efforts thwarted by a grandmother who thought food restriction was “nonsense and undeserved”. It can take up to 1 year for a pet to safely lose 20% body fat. So a pet parent commitment to a long-term lifestyle change is imperative.

2. BODY CONDITION SCORE – This is a number given by a veterinarian to assess percentage body fat that a pet has and how its current weight compares to its own IDEAL weight. This score can be out of 9 with ideal weights being 4 or 5/9. With every increment over 5, there is rough estimate of 5-10% excess body fat. Obesity is categorized as 8/9 or 9/9. If you’re not sure how much your pet should lose, I recommend having your veterinarian assess body condition score. This information will also be used to determine amount of calories that should be fed to achieve weight loss.

3. ASSESSING FEEDING PLAN – Notice that we assess HOW your pet gets it’s food before we address what type of food. This is important as sometimes well-intentioned pet parents keep heaping piles of dry kibble in a bowl at all times or mention that Max gets a ‘little’ snack each time he uses the bathroom (Max is 10 years old…long past potty training stage). If your pet is overweight and has a free choice buffet…he IS eating too much. I often hear mentioned that even though there is free choice food, pet parents rarely see their pet eating and sometimes incorrectly assume that the problem could not possibly be the method of feeding (ie. free choice). But trust me, grazing can lead to obesity just as much as gobbling regularly! We recommend controlled feedings for pets that are overweight or obesity-prone.

4. GENERAL HEALTH – Yes, dogs, like people share many health conditions that can predispose to excess body fat such as Hypothyroidism and Diabetes. A physical exam and blood test should help uncover most common causes for obesity and help determine physical health and ability to tolerate the next step.

5. EXERCISE – Dogs, it seems, have a lot in common with us humans. Exercise is vital to a balanced weight loss plan! If your dog is accustomed to being a couch potato and occasionally barking at the mailman, then start small with daily leash walks as far as they will easily tolerate. Avoid walking in heat of the day, on hot pavement or restricting fresh water. Be mindful of what your pet can tolerate. Sometimes they get so excited that they forget to slow down, take a drink or rest! Remember that overweight to obese pets have far lower heat tolerance than their leaner counterparts.

6. DIET MODIFICATION – If you have survived the previous steps and still not achieving weight loss then we recommend added help with a diet switch to lower calorie, higher fiber diets. Regular commercial diets can contain a wide range of calories per cup – from 230 (lowest available by Hills Science Diet) to >600 calories! Because of this, it is very important to obtain the caloric content per cup of any diet you consider. In general, diets that advertise ‘light ’, ‘low fat’ or ‘weight management’ are lower in calories per cup but often produce unrewarding weight loss results because they’re designed to maintain current weight when recommendations on feeding amounts on the bag are followed. Often to get satisfactory weight loss results, you would have to cut recommended amounts by 30% per day. Never reduce by more than this because OTC (over-the-counter) diets may result in nutrient deficiencies. For serious weight loss, we recommend Hills Prescription R/D (reducing diet), which has high fiber and thus a larger volume of food can be fed to produce a feeling of satiety without excess calories. Whenever desiring to switch diets for weight loss, always consult your veterinarian for advice.

7. WEIGHT LOSS AIDES – Yes dogs have weight loss aides available too! This is usually a final resort for effective and relatively rapid means of achieving weight loss for which obesity poses an increased health risk. A product called Slentrol has been available through veterinarians to help obese dogs lose weight. It works by suppressing appetites and thus assist committed pet parents in achieving their pet’s weight loss goals. Frequent weigh-ins are mandatory to avoid unhealthy and too rapid weight loss. See your veterinarian about more information.

So for overweight or obese pets with committed pet parents, achieving a healthy weight is one of the most effective means in helping to ensure an active, healthy and longer life. So start these simple steps today and contact your veterinarian for more information.