Fighting the Chub!
Just like in humans, our patients are fighting the battle of the bulge. Dogs have adapted for hundreds of years to store excess calories as fat so they have a store of nutrients when they go through times of low food availability. Realistically, very few dogs go through that low food time these days. Instead of having times when they store food and then use the stores up, they just keep storing more and more and the end result is obesity.
Obesity becomes a medical condition because it is the underlying cause of several diseases that shorten our patient’s lives. Most of us know from personal experience that carrying “extra pounds” leads to more strain on the joints and long-term arthritis. In humans that battle is most typically over carrying 10 pounds or more, but most of our dogs are quite a bit smaller than humans which means that even carrying 1 extra pound results in a lot of extra strain on the joints.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most dogs really like to eat. Most feel that it is the best reward in the whole world, and since our dogs are the best dogs in the whole world, they should have lots and lots of rewards. We love them right into obesity. I am not suggesting that we should stop giving our pets treats. That would not be well received by my patients, so what the heck are we going to do?
First, you have to know what you pet weighs. At our clinic, we make the scale available to everyone. You don’t need to be coming in for an appointment, you can just stop while you are running errands and put your dog on the scale to help keep track of their weight. We track patient’s weights in their medical record, so we are happy to help record their weights anytime. Once you know what they weight, you can make adjustments when the changes are small.
Unfortunately, the weight formula for dogs is the exact same as it for humans. To loose weight, our patients either have to burn more calories or take in fewer calories. Personally, I am a big fan of taking in calories, so I vote strongly for the burn more calories option. In fact, most of us got a dog because we like to interact with them. They are the most fun, loving creatures in the world, so why not go spend time with them? We are just starting to get some nice weather, so lets get our dogs outside and get them the exercise they need. Throw the ball, or go for a walk that covers some distance. Play with there toys. All those fun things your dog will love will help them burn the calories.
If, there are some patients out there that medically can not get as much exercise as they need, or they are already down the obesity path and need more than just increased calorie burn to get back on track, we may need to try to also put less calories in.
There are lots of ways to achieve that goal; especially since we decide exactly what our dog eats each day. We could do something really small and simple like give them 1 or 2 less treats a day. But since we all know the treats are the most yummy and important part, we could also choose to give the 5-6 less kibbles in their bowl at each meal. That option is often way easier as they tend not to notice a few less kibbles when they are getting their bowl filled up. If that subtle change is not enough, we can look at the many weight loss food choices available. In our hands, we have been most successful with the Hill’s Metabolic food. This food has a really normal number of calories in the food, but Hill’s figured out there are some foods that actually increase the metabolism, like coconut and tomatoes. They actually ran a study where they looked and the weight loss of patients eating Metabolic formula versus there own previous weight loss foods that were based simply on really low calorie diets, and the dogs eating Metabolic formula lost more weight. Since they were eating a normal number of calories, they also didn’t act starved their whole life! After we get them back on track with the Metabolic food we can usually change them to a more commonly available food like Science Diet Healthy Weight.
Just like humans, dogs have a wide range of caloric needs. Some dogs need up to 50% more calories than other dogs to maintain their healthy weight. That also means that some dogs need 50% less calories than others to maintain that same healthy weight. We really do have to find the right exercise and food combination.
The staff at our clinic is able to help you figure our what your pet’s ideal weight is. Rather than just eyeballing our patients, we are able to take measurements of our patients in areas of their body that typically do not store large quantities of fat, the skull and the long bones of the legs, for example. Measurements of those areas allow us to enter the data into a computer software program and allow the computer to establish a frame size of each dog. A much more accurate assessment of what the patient should weight can be established, and a healthy weight loss time frame can be established. That way you know what a realistic goal weight is, and a reasonable timeline to see success.
The obesity battle is worth it, if it means keeping our pets joints healthier and reducing their risk of obesity related diseases such as diabetes and breathing problems. We say all winter long, “as soon as it gets nice outside we will get out there and get some exercise”. Well… now is the time. Lets make the most of the nice weather and get our patients outside. Don’t forget, we are here to help. Let us know where you are at with your pet with regards to their weight control, and we will be ready to help get you on track with the next step!