June 1, 2010

Companion animal obesity is becoming increasingly common. In fact, veterinarians estimate that 44% of their dog and cat patients are overweight – almost half the pet population.

The two primary causes of weight gain are of course, food intake and lack of exercise. Other factors such as medications (particularly steroids) can also be to blame.

Many pet foods are becoming increasingly higher in calories as the quality levels are beginning to increase. In terms of diet, there are several approaches to managing obesity in pets. Conventionally, low fat foods have been used with some success. Our Verve recipe is naturally low in fat, at just 7.5% Fat, with 21% protein and 440 calories per cup.

A newer, alternative approach, has been to limit carbohydrate intake to help achieve & maintain a healthy body weight. This is surprisingly, a logical choice for a canine – most people agree now that dog’s GI tracts are not designed to process an overload of processed ingredients or an excess of grain. We have found that many dogs actually seem to slim down when they consume fewer or zero grain.

Our Force recipe has moderate fat and protein with lower carbs than Verve. Embark is very high protein & fat with low carbohydrate content. This latter profile is usually best for maintaining lean body mass in more active dogs.

For weight loss, you want to follow the ‘less active’ column and you might even feed less than the suggested amount if she has a slower-than-normal metabolism. One useful tip is to compensate for the lesser amount of food, by re-hydrating it with extra water. This will make more of a ‘soupy’ meal that will help to fill her up without any extra calories. Remember too, that our feeding guidelines are just suggestions; the actual amount your dog needs will be specific to her metabolism and other factors such as her age, whether or not she’s been spayed, and how active she is.

Unfortunately, there are no rules concerning which approach will work for an individual dog, so it is a matter or trial and error to determine whether lower fats or lower carbohydrates will be the most effective method for reducing obesity in any particular dog.

Of course the other important part of the weight management picture is to ensure your dog is getting sufficient exercise. At a minimum – about 20 minutes of running or brisk walking, twice every day. If they’re relatively inactive right now, you would need to work up gradually to that activity level, beginning with slower walks for shorter duration in the beginning.

You should also restrict the amount of calories per day, in the form of treats. Reserve treats for rewards only and perhaps just one at bedtime. Try offering vegetables like raw carrot as a treat in place of cookies (but don’t slice large carrots into disks as they could present a choking hazard). Alternatively, tiny pieces of plain poached chicken could be used instead of sugary jerky-style treats.

Failing that, it might be helpful to have some blood-work done to check her thyroid function; an under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroid) can lead to weight gain but is fairly easy to regulate with medications.