Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
LEAN TOWARD LEAN
If your pet is fat, your pet is not healthy.
FAT IS HEALTHY WHEN IT IS A STORAGE RESPONSE TO A TEMPOrary abundance in the environment. In nature, abundance is often balanced by a period of scarcity.
In the wild, animals put on fat for a reason—to survive the hard winter months. Fat squirrels, chubby sparrows, and pleasantly plump pigeons abound by the first snowfall. The pets in our care live in air-conditioned and heated environments, and dinner is delivered regularly in a bowl. For them, aside from the forays to the park, winter is now room temperature. A little extra weight in the winter to take the chill out of the wind is fine, but if that “little extra” becomes year-round roundness, it can be a detriment to a pet—unless he is a sled dog. Sled dogs and other pets that are predominantly outdoors in cold weather might need the insulation and energy reserves to get their jobs done.
Over half of the pets in the United States are overweight. We barely even notice because, in this country, it is the norm. It doesn’t look like fat anymore. It looks like a dog shape. In actuality a dog should have a defined edge to the rib cage, a waist, and hips. You should be able to feel the ribs without applying too much pressure on the chest. Unfortunately, it is more common to see dogs that look like sausages—no waist and no ribs visible.
Feed less than it says on the can or package.
There are loads of reasons for the loads of fat. Pet food companies routinely recommend feeding amounts that are way too much for the average pet. I have found recommendations as much as four times too high for some of my patients. Feed less than it says on those packages! If you’re unsure of the amount to feed, watch how many times a day your dog poops.
I recently talked to a client about her sweet seven-year-old beagle, Tinder. Tinder was obese and arthritic. Her owner insisted Tinder was not fat and was always starving. She was “barely feeding her enough to keep her happy.” I asked her how many times a day the dog was pooping. She stopped to count. “One, two, three, four, five . . . six . . . seven . . . well, six or seven times a day,” she said.
She was surprised to hear that Tinder should be pooping once or twice a day. With a constantly full GI tract, Tinder’s little overweight body could never possibly use up its own fat.
If your pet is overweight and you are feeding it “nothing,” feed it half of nothing.
Among the reasons our pets are overweight is that the food we feed our pets is too high in carbs, which causes obesity in carnivores such as dogs and cats. Also, we exercise less with our pets than we used to. We spend more time in front of computer screens, and less time outside playing with our pets. I am looking at my dog right now as I type and I know he’s thinking, “Oh, yeah? And you should talk!” And when we do exercise, the choice of a comfortable gym for us rather than a weather-related hike with the dog often wins out.
Cats get less exercise than dogs as they age. Kittens play, play, play, but older cats do a lot of window sitting. We need to remember that they need to run and romp even during their golden years.
Food is too often equated with love. While it would be unloving, indeed cruel, to starve an animal in our care, the opposite is not true. It is not more loving to give so much food that an animal becomes overweight. Owners tell me they can’t stand the brown eyes begging for food. They say they must feed them at least one treat, usually several times a day. I tell clients that every treat is like feeding a candy bar to your pet. If you ate candy bars all day, how big would you be?
There are many ways you can show your pet love without overfeeding. Respond to begging with a fun game, or a nice rubdown, or a pleasant, sense-stimulating walk. We shouldn’t be afraid of our pets having an empty stomach. From an evolutionary standpoint, being hungry would be more the norm than the exception. The body knows what to do when it is hungry. It becomes lazy when it is full.
I am reminded of what happened in my six-year-old daughter’s karate class. One day her instructor, Sensei Rhonda, said, “Great job everybody! Shall we celebrate with doughnuts?”
Sophie’s voice could be heard over the crowd shouting with the rest of them. She yelled a resounding “No, Sensei!”
Sensei Rhonda said, “What shall we celebrate with, Sophie?” And to my surprise Sophie said, “Push-ups!” I thought of ice-cream push-ups. But Sophie dropped to the floor and started counting in Japanese with each push-up she completed. She was taught that, while enjoyable, a doughnut would do nothing but unravel the hard work they’d done in class. I try more often now to think of something other than ice cream as a treat. And the same goes for pet treats.
Dogs and cats have evolved from the animals they once were, who ate what they hunted. In our homes, their incentive for exercise and work is gone. In the wild, the need to find food would have been the incentive to get them moving.
Animals in the wild experience intermittent fasting, but we never let our pets get hungry at all. There are actually many proven benefits to going hungry for short periods of time. If the body has a scarcity of food, it will protect cells, conserve resources, and activate the brain and senses to be more aware. It may even give extra help to inflamed joints and stiff muscles, to make the animal a more efficient hunter. Pets don’t benefit from this if they are fat.
Zeus, a significantly overweight Rottweiler mix, had arthritis of the hips and was unable to climb stairs. His owners had adopted him when he was quite elderly, and they weren’t aware that his weight was an issue. They came to me looking for palliative care. Besides the weight problem, his heart rate was slow. He had chronic skin issues—ear infections and hot spots—that they thought were allergies. We changed his food and I administered acupuncture. I prescribed Adequan, an extremely effective, easy-to-give injectable joint supplement that I teach owners to administer at home subcutaneously, usually just twice a month after a loading dose. I also added herbal anti-inflammatories. In addition, I had his thyroid checked.
On the next visit he seemed brighter, and the owners noticed him playing with another dog. The thyroid test results had come back and his thyroid function was indeed low. We added thyroid supplements, both Western and nutraceutical, and continued acupuncture. After only two weeks, his owners said he was a different dog. He lost weight quickly and could walk up the stairs again. He was more playful. He had been aggressive and barked like mad at other dogs, but now started to be friendly to the neighborhood dogs. Because his thyroid was regulated and he could now move quickly to retreat, he didn’t feel as threatened. Zeus’s behavior changed as his health improved. His general comfort level contributed to better behavior. This was all-around good news for pet and owner.
SO YOUR PET IS FAT?
I have learned to be careful when I say a pet is fat.
I had a veterinarian friend over at my house several years ago, and I can remember exactly how I felt when she said, in an offhand way, “Hey, your dog is fat.” I was so insulted. She could have said, “You’re so fat,” and I wouldn’t have been more insulted. I immediately denied it—even as I looked at my dog and it rang true. Why yes, he had gotten fat in the last few weeks.
There is always emotional baggage when I tell owners their pet is too fat. I try to be tactful and give hope for a thinner future, but for the sake of the pet’s health, I have to be honest.
Dogs are carnivores and scavengers, and therefore they are uniquely suited to losing and gaining weight quickly. They expect times of scarcity and times of abundance, and their body mass will reflect those conditions quickly. We can use that information to our advantage by aggressively feeding less to an overweight dog to get him to lose weight fast.
As long as there is fat to metabolize, canines will use it for energy. They do not have to exercise to lose weight, although it can help. The reduction of food will accomplish that, as long as they don’t have another medical reason, such as thyroid issues, to retain weight. Thin dogs feel better and handle arthritis, heart disease, skin problems, and inflammatory conditions better.
Keep in mind that every extra one pound on your dog becomes—by way of some nifty calculations using physics, gravity, and a slide rule—four extra pounds of torque and pressure on each leg joint. This translates into some painful ambulation for overweight arthritic dogs. Get the weight off and your pet will be so much better, you may even be able to decrease arthritis medication.
Dogs can lose weight quickly.
Weight Loss in Dogs
Chubby doggies can and should lose weight relatively quickly.
You can take emergency action to help reduce football-shaped dogs. In six weeks, they can lose considerable weight and look like a dog instead of a not-dog.
Calorie counting is not necessary. Simply use your own informed judgment. How often is your dog pooping? Are they really losing weight? 1% weight loss in 2 weeks is probably too little. 10% in 2 weeks is more like it.
Don’t use diet foods. Just feed excellent dog food and much less of it.
Supplement hungry overweight dogs with rice cakes (plain); they are useful stomach fillers, and in this form the carbs aren’t absorbed much. Low-sodium canned green beans are also good stomach fillers with very few calories.
Cats shouldn’t lose weight quickly.
Weight Loss in Cats
Fat cats can and should take their time losing weight.
Don’t force a cat to lose weight quickly. It could result in serious illness and liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).
Just use a great-quality food and rely on the cat to lose the weight slowly.
While impatient with canine weight loss, I am resolutely patient with feline weight loss. A cat should not lose weight quickly. Once you decrease the carbohydrates, make very small decreases (maybe 1/8 less than their normal intake for a while) in food amounts. Their systems are delicate and light-touch changes are best. Cats, unlike dogs, can develop fatty liver disease from a “starvation mode” metabolism if they don’t eat every day. This is life-threatening. Feline weight loss takes time and effort. Some cats may take over a year to reach a normal weight once they are on a suitable food. This is fine.
To Encourage Cats to Exercise More
Move food bowls to a place where the cat has to make an effort to get to it when hungry. They will be less likely to snack unless they are truly hungry.
Don’t forget to show them where the food is and make sure it is accessible to them.
Feed twice daily. It’s okay to leave a small amount of the food out till the next feeding.
Play more with your cat—cat dancer–type toys can pique their interest.