Idiopathic Issues

5 Weight Management Tips for Pets

Posted by Jessica Gramlich on December 11, 2015 at 11:34 AM
Jessica Gramlich
Dr. Gramlich is a 2008 graduate of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing a one-year emergency internship in Rhode Island, she spent five years working as a small animal general practitioner in New Hampshire.

VP-dog-weighThe Holiday Season is in full swing and I don’t know about you, but it is a struggle for me to make good food choices and find the time to exercise during all of the festivities.  Unfortunately for our pets there seems to be a correlation with our Winter weight gain and their Winter weight gain.  I had so many Spring Wellness exams that started out with, Fluffy has gained quite a bit of weight over the Winter and we will need to do something about that.  

In a way, I feel for the clients.  If you live in a cold climate it can be hard to take your dog out for a walk when it is freezing cold or freezing rain.  The sidewalks get clogged with ice and snow and it is dark out earlier so it really can be treacherous to take your pup out for a walk.  Unfortunately, if you are like me, you feel guilty when you don’t take your dog for a walk so you make up for it by giving treats.  Decreased calories out and increased calories in is a dangerous equation for weight gain.

The reasons to keep your pet trim are many.  Just like for humans, a healthy weight often results in a better quality of life.  Decreased stress on the joints, decreased inflammatory fat tissue, easier breathing for those brachycephalic breeds, less risk of infection around skin folds, decreased risk of diabetes in cats, easier to run around and play, easier to keep the hind end clean.  As you can see, there are many benefits.

Our pets are getting heavier and heavier and while our dogs and cats don’t have to live with the pain of fat shaming like humans do, they still have a decreased quality of life when obesity is accepted by their caretakers.  Here are some tips for keeping pets trim!

1. Rule Out Medical Etiologies First

If a dog is already obese, it is important to rule out common endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.  Most likely, the owners are overfeeding the dog, but you would hate to put the dog through a strict diet and exercise regimen without first running some bloodworm to make sure that the patient is healthy.

2. Control Intake

Most owners have no idea how many calories their pet needs nor do they know how many calories are in the food they feed, the treats they give or the human food they add.  If they are following the directions on the bag of food based on the pets weight and then supplementing the diet with pet treats and human food, that adds up to entirely too many calories.   This is something you might actually see on the NAVLE, calculate the Resting Energy Requirements kcal/day (RER) for a patient.  The formula is [70 x (ideal weight in kg)] ¾ but we often adjust the formula to 30(body weight in kilograms) + 70 because it is an easier calculation.  When you start with the patient’s RER and multiple this number by a factor that accounts for the normal activity of the patient, then you get the Daily Energy Requirement (DER) for that patient.  The activity factor for a patient that needs to lose weight is often 0.8 to 1.0 so the RER is often a reasonable starting point for calorie recommendation.

The next issue is trying to determine how many calories are in the food.  Most large pet food companies will supply veterinarians with this information but the more obscure recipes may require a phone call to find out how many kcal/cup or kcal/can or kcal/treat.  

Keep in mind that you might have to do the math for your client.  If you send them home with the plan of your pet needs 600 calories per day you might not get the results that you are hoping for.  If you are more specific with, your pet can get eat 3/4 cup of  X brand dry food once in the morning and once at night with 2 dog X brand biscuits broken up and treated throughout the day then you may see better results.  

Should you switch the patient to a weight loss diet? The answer to this question is, it depends.  Of course you need to take into account the patient’s health.  Are they on a prescription diet for a medical reason that would prevent them from switching to a weight loss formula? I’m a true believer in weight loss diets, but ONLY if the owner is willing to follow your feeding recommendations.  Humans can gain weight while overeating eating salads and pets can gain weight when overeating weight control foods. If your client insists on pursuing a homemade diet then I recommend a consult with a veterinary nutritionist to insure that the patient has a complete and balanced diet.

3. Get Moving

Exercise is the first thing that people think of when they consider weight loss.  I think diet is much more critical, but exercise is certainly an important factor.  I have two very active dogs and it is difficult for me to fathom a dog that doesn’t want to go for a walk but they definitely do exist. Working a dog up to a brisk 30 minute walk per day is a good start.  Leash walking is always best, but if there is a safe place to walk the dog off leash they might get double the exercise running around.  Swimming is a great activity, especially for those patients with arthritis. For cats or dogs try to encourage play using toys to play fetch or tug, laser pointers or even treat puzzles that make pets work for their food. If a patient has severe mobility issues due to arthritis or obesity then I would encourage the owner to take the pet to a rehabilitation facility.  Dogs and cats can be trained on the underwater treadmill for a cardiovascular workout and they can participate in safe exercises to help strengthen their muscles.  

4. Monitoring is Key

The last thing you want to do is recommend that a pet “lose weight” and then send it out the door with a plan to see it next year.  Specificity and follow up are keys to success.  Make a diet and exercise plan individualized for each patient and have the patient come in regularly, at least monthly for weigh-ins to keep track of progress and then adjust the calories per day and exercise plan as indicated.  Involve the technicians in the weight loss programs as well and make a big deal out of success stories.  

5. Be Proactive

From the very first puppy or kitten visit stress the importance of weight management to your clients.  Body condition scoring should be noted on every exam. Yes it can be an uncomfortable conversation but we are here to be an advocate for the patient, not just to tell people what they want to hear.  If a patient is in good condition, praise the owners for helping the pet to maintain a healthy weight.  If the pet has “gained a little over the winter” help the owner to identify ways to get the body condition score back to a safer place as soon as possible.  Don’t wait until your patients are struggling to walk before saying something.

Healthy weight management helps to save lives and improve the quality of those lives, so take the time to talk about it with your clients and give out lots of handouts, measuring cups, leashes, and encouragement to make sure your recommendations are taken seriously.

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Topics: Health & Wellness, NAVLE, rehabilitation, Weight

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