Meet Bowzer one of my patients. He is a mixed breed dog that weighed 32 pounds when I took him to my house. I was certainly not his favorite person in the world, but then, he wasn’t my favorite patient. Someone would always end up bleeding by the time he left our office. This time Bowzer had really done it! He had tangled with a wild raccoon and was in bad shape. With no previous Rabies shots, he would have to be quarantined. Long story short, even though I wasn’t a huge Bowzer-fan, he came to live with me for six months!
His ideal body weight is ~18 pounds, so at 32 pounds he was a long way off! Finally, our relationship blossomed to friendship and we had a blast together. Six months flew by! When the time came for Bowzer to be reunited with his family again after “Fat Camp” at my place, he weighed 19 pounds!!!
A recent study shows that about 40% of our furry friends need to lose weight. In most cases WE are in total control of our pet’s weight. It boils down to just two things: decreasing their calories and increasing their exercise. Easy, right? Well, maybe not, or that number wouldn’t be 40% and rising. And what if there is more to it than that?
Step1: Decreasing Calories ≠ Starving to Death
Decreasing calories may be as easy as taking the amount of food you are feeding and cutting it by about a third. This is where I usually start. Most owners are shocked (horrified might be a better word) at just how much will be left out. But think about it. If your pet became overweight on 3 cups of food a day, this is too many calories for him. An appropriate amount of food might be 2 and a half cups a day. But that is his “maintenance” amount of food. Cutting his food by just a half a cup will allow him to maintain his current weight. But want him to lose weight, so to effectively do this you will need to feed him considerably less food. Once he loses an appropriate amount weight, we will increase his food.
A word of warning. Taking the food you are currently feeding him and dramatically reducing the amount is not always a good thing to do, especially if you are decreasing to well below the recommended amount on the bag. Why? Most nutrients in the food, like vitamins and minerals, are balanced to give a recommended daily allowance, just like people food. So if you find you are feeding well below what the bag recommends, your dog may not be getting all the nutrients that he needs.
Changing food is often a good idea. There are many good diet foods out there on the market – too many to list for sure. Some have increased fiber to make your pet feel more full and therefore less hungry. Others have higher protein and less fat and carbohydrates, kind of like people low-carb diets. In general I choose the higher fiber diets for my older, less active patients and the higher protein diets for younger, more active patients. A lot more research has gone into the prescription formulas than the grocery store formulas and I find my patients losing weight much more consistently on the prescription diets. They are more expensive so some people just use them to get the weight off and then pick a more affordable food for maintenance.
This is a good time to talk about metabolism. Remember your friend in college that ate three huge meals a day, ate more pizza than anybody else, always had dessert, and never gained a pound? Different people have VERY different metabolisms. Why should dogs be any different? Well guess what, they’re not. I have a 20-pound dog and a 10-pound dog and my 20-pounder eats exactly FOUR times as much as my 10-pounder. If you worry about your dog having an unusually low metabolism, there may be a solution to help regain balance. I’ll touch on that secret a little later on.
Keep in mind also that dog food companies want to sell dog food. The faster your dog eats up their food, the faster you will buy more. I’m not saying that dog food companies want your dog to be an unhealthy weight, but the draw to sell more dog food may influence that upper range of “how much to feed” on the bag.
Step 2: People Food – “Just Say No . . . at least initially”
I think it’s a well-known fact that people food isn’t great for dogs. Since you shouldn’t feed your normal-weight dog much people food, you definitely shouldn’t feed your overweight dog much people food. Much?! She said “much”!! Break out the hot dogs and hamburgers! Okay, you caught me. Yes, it is my personal opinion that feeding a little people food is not terribly awful for your dog, but I have strict rules. Always be sure that ‘people food’ makes up less than 10% of your dog’s entire diet. Remember the balanced-nutrient (vitamins and minerals) issue with restricting your dog’s food too much? This is what I worry about with too much people food.
Be careful choosing what kind of people food for your dog. Some things are straight up toxic (chocolate, grapes, raisins, anything containing xylitol, onions especially for cats, etc) so obviously avoid these. In general, things that are recommended for people on a diet are usually ok for that 10%. Good choices are: carrots (most dogs really like carrots), apples, cottage cheese, green beans, eggs, pumpkin, and oatmeal. No, hot dogs and hamburgers didn’t make the list for obvious reasons. But your dog is a carnivore, he loves protein, so cooked chicken and salmon are fun treats.
Most of my overweight patients I want entirely off of people food until they reach an appropriate weight. The reason is a little different than you might think. A dog is a carnivore, so his body is made to make a kill, eat it, and go for an extended period of time without eating again. His blood sugar doesn’t drop like ours does and even if he doesn’t act like it, he isn’t as hungry as you and I when he goes without eating for an extended period of time. So if he thinks you are about to mix up some oatmeal, cottage cheese, salmon and eggs for him, he will be much more apt to wait you out and refuse his food, starting a viscous cycle of more and more people food.
People food may not be appropriate for your individual pet. Work with your veterinarian (most aren’t absolute teetotalers, like me). Dogs with kidney problems should avoid high protein foods. Dogs with cholesterol issues should avoid eggs. Dogs that are predisposed to pancreatitis should always avoid people food.
Step 3: Increasing Exercise = Yeah!!!! Exercise
Remember how dogs lose weight? Very simply = decrease the calories + increase the exercise. In general, unlike some humans, dogs LOVE the second half of this equation. Take advantage of this! Make his diet fun. Spring is the perfect time of the year to get outside and move around.
Get creative. Really anything that gets his heart rate up will help. Daily walks are good (for them and for most of us). I would like to stress “daily” because if you shoot for daily, you will usually get a good walk in about 3-4 times a week because of weather and life in general. If you physically can’t or just don’t have the time, I often recommend finding an energetic teenager in your neighborhood or family that may need a couple extra bucks and hiring them.
One of my sweetest clients is a little old lady who was in a really bad car accident. She lived through it and always came in with a smile on her face as she described her latest complicated orthopedic surgery. She lived alone and needless to say, couldn’t walk her dog anymore. Charlie was a healthy 4 year old Schnauzer that I usually only saw once a year. So when she brought him in for his annual exam he had gone from a healthy 20 pounds to a very unhealthy 34 pounds. Cutting his calories because he wasn’t getting as much exercise was an option for Charlie, but heck, that’s no fun for him. That’s kind of lose – lose, in fact (less food and less exercise). Many people wanted to help this poor sweet lady (family members, neighbors, coworkers) but didn’t know how. I asked her if she wanted me to post a plea on her Facebook page to help walk Charlie. She said, “Absolutely” and that’s all it took. We cut his calories a little until he reached a good weight. Now he can enjoy a bit more food due to the extra exercise!
Look around for dog parks where you can let them off the leash and run for a while. Dog parks with a bunch of other different sized dogs are not my favorite because you can never tell who isn’t going to get along. We have local dog parks where you can rent a fenced-in area for $1 an hour and throw the frisbee or a tennis ball to encourage him to move around. Leash walking on trails around dog parks is fun too because of all the smells for your dog.
Be careful taking your overweight total couch potato and going too crazy with an exercise regimen. Work with your veterinarian to establish appropriate activity and amount of exercise for your dog. Each individual is different. An older dog with arthritis may enjoy swimming which is easier on his joints. You may worry about your really obese dog sinking like a rock when he tries to swim? Fat is actually very buoyant, so most overweight dogs can still swim quite well, making it one of the best exercises for them. You obviously want to monitor your dog closely, especially when you first start swimming.
It’s as easy as 1,2,3…Or maybe not?
We know there are many of you out there that are already doing their best to keep their pets in healthy shape. You’ve done the 1,2,3, so to speak, and nothing seems to work? Let’s not forget that, just like us humans, your furry friends can also feel the effects of stress, emotions, mourning and much more!
Has something happened to create an unbalance in his system? Or is there perhaps a medical reason behind his weight? If you are feeding your dog below the recommended amount and your dog continues to gain weight, have him tested for hypothyroidism. Not to get too technical, the thyroid gland is responsible for setting the metabolism. It’s never “great” to have a disease, but I am always kind of pleased when I diagnose a dog with hypothyroidism. Primarily because I know I am going to make that dog feel a LOT better once I get him treated and he will finally be able to lose weight easily while probably eating more. Treatment (both traditional and homeopathic) is easy and effective.
If you are reading this and are suspicious, read on! My weirdly-low-metabolism 10 pound dog mentioned above isn’t hypothyroid . . . right now. She is only 3 years old though, so I will continue to test her at least yearly. Don’t “hang your hat” on one test. Many of my suspiciously low-metabolism patients test negative (or low normal) when they are younger and then suddenly test positive when they are older.
One more thing about testing for hypothyroidism: be sure to get more than just a T4 level. A dog’s T4 level can be low for about a zillion different reasons, not just hypothyroidism. Most veterinarians will recommend a “Thyroid Panel” that includes a lot of things like T4, T3, TSH, Autoantibodies, etc. The full panels are ideal, but without turning this into an endocrinology lesson, make sure you at least get a T4 and a TSH level.
Homeopathy = The Big Secret to Safely and Effectively Help My Dog Lose Weight?!
Remember when I said “there are no big secrets” to losing weight? Well, that’s not entirely true. Homeopathy isn’t really a secret, but many people have never heard of it. We have seen very good results with our CUSTOM REMEDY, specifically formulated for your dog from history and information you give us. Obesity, as we mentioned, can be a multifaceted problem, with physical and emotional issues involved. Working with our Homeopath to treat your dog’s root issues with a CUSTOM REMEDY will allow for much better weight loss results in the end. Your dog may also benefit from just one of our HYPOTHYROIDISM, ARTHRITIS or ANXIETY remedies if their weight loss revolves solely around one of those issues. But a CUSTOM REMEDY can address a combination of these and other issues affecting your individual dog’s weight. If you are unsure which one can help your dog, cat or other pet the most in their struggle, just ask us. We are always here to help.
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