By Matthew Kearns, DVM
In our previous article we discussed predisposing factors to obesity such as breed, spay/neuter status, age and underlying disease. This article will focus on a brief overview of tackling the obesity problem. The short answer here is there is no magic bullet for weight loss, but rather the same answer there is for humans: diet and exercise. With that said let’s take a closer look at that and give some more specific recommendations.
Diet: In a veterinary article I recently read, management of obesity in dogs and cats is as easy as following the three A’s: awareness, accurate accounting and assessment.
Awareness refers not only to coming to terms with obesity in your pet but also certain risks as well (breed, spay/neuter status, etc.). How does one identify obesity in a pet? Usually it’s a vet (the bad guy) that hints at the fact that Spike has gotten a little husky or Fifi a little fluffy. However, you can actually assess your own pet at home. Just go online and look up “Body Conditioning Score,” or “BCS” for short. If, after reviewing information online you are still unsure, I would recommend scheduling an appointment to consult with your veterinarian.
Accurate accounting may be the hardest thing (for us as pet owners) to face. Food can be an act of bonding not only with other people but also with our pets. We had one pet owner at our clinic with an obese dog she swore was only getting its food and no extra snacks or table food. After a bit of investigation I found out that the owner loved to cook and the dog was the “official taster” for every meal. No table food meant no food directly from the table. This was a smart woman, but she felt that the dog would no longer love her if she took this bonding moment away. Unfortunately, this also meant the dog would soon have to be rolled into the clinic and not walk in under its own power.
To make life a little easier, there is a way to actually calculate calorie requirements by using a calculation called the Resting Energy Requirements, or RER for short. The RER is a starting point, and then in conjunction with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist you can calculate how much food to give at each meal. After accurately calculating how much food your dog needs for the whole day, you can break that up into as many meals as you’d like. It has been found that it is more effective to feed at least two and up to four smaller meals a day to lose weight than to free feed (fill up the bowl).
Treats also have calories and should not exceed 10 percent of the diet. There are now low-calorie treats available both commercially and as prescription low-calorie treats through your veterinarian.
Lastly, in terms of assessment, it is important to either weigh your pet at home or bring your pet to your veterinarian’s office for a weight (this helps with consistency especially for larger pets). We encourage pet owners with obese pets trying to lose weight to bring their pets in (at no charge) to be weighed.
Exercise: Exercise is key to good health for many reasons: It helps to maintain and strengthen muscle, it promotes cardiovascular health, it provides mental stimulation, and it increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation.
Obese dogs should be given low-impact cardiovascular exercise (a longer walk or swimming rather than chasing a ball) to avoid heat stroke or injury.
Obese indoor-only cats should have their play geared toward outdoor hunting and playing behaviors (climbing, balancing, scratching). Toys work well for some cats, while others prefer cat trees or play stations. Interactive toys with the owner are best (especially for single-cat households) to lose weight, as well as promote bonding with the owner.
I hope that this series of articles will help to make our pets the healthiest and happiest pets ever this summer.
Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.