“Diet Starts Tomorrow…”

We’ve all probably said this to ourselves at some point, especially after the holidays when delicious treats and over-indulgence have run rampant and wreaked havoc on our waistlines. We are not alone, though, as our pets share an increase in poundage and probably for the same reasons – they join in our celebrations of the holidays and special occasions and we want to reward them with the foods they love because they are a beloved part of our families.

The number one response I get when I mention that a pet I’m examining has gotten a bit overweight is something along the lines of “The weather just makes it impossible to go for walks.” It is understandable that no one wants to be outside in a polar vortex trucking through the snow with their dog to work off that extra slice of pie. But what many pet owners do not realize is that exercise has only a small fraction to do with their pet’s weight loss! Don’t get me wrong, exercise is great; it helps build lean muscle and burns calories and strengthens the heart, just to name a few benefits. I consider exercise a bonus to a good weight loss program, not a necessity because let’s face it, not everyone is lucky enough to spend time outdoors with their pets year-round!I have often thought about how awesome it would be to have a personal chef. Everything in front of me would be healthy and in the right proportions, and I wouldn’t have to even think about it! Our pets are so lucky because we are their personal chefs. We control what goes into their mouths (for those of you that have labs or beagles this may not always be true, despite your best efforts…)! So how do you make the best choices for your pet?

It is all about how much food you make available to them. If you grab a big dogeatingdrinking cup and scoop it full of your dog or cat’s food and then leave it out all day for them, they are probably going to be taking in way too many calories throughout the day to stand a chance at weight loss.

My first piece of advice would be to start measuring out how much food you are already feeding your pet. To do this you need to obtain an actual measuring cup. Pour the same amount of food that you would normally feed your pet into one or more measuring cups to get an idea of how many cups you are actually feeding. Then take a look at your pet’s food bag. There will usually be a chart showing how much food to feed based on a given weight range. This is the important part: if your pet is already overweight you do not want to feed based on their current weight because they will either maintain or gain weight! You need to feed based on their ideal weight. If you need help figuring out what number this is feel free to talk to your veterinarian. I have found with many food bags that the recommended feeding quantities are very generous, so keep that in mind! It also helps to feed them a designated number of meals during the day, instead of just feeding “free-choice.”Another recommendation to help with your pet’s weight loss is to gradually switch to a low-calorie food which will often have more fiber to help make them feel fuller, longer. It also helps to have one person in the household in charge of all the feedings, that way you stay consistent.

I know you are probably wondering about treats which for some is a very important part of their pet’s routine. Table scraps should be eliminated because the food we eat is simply too high in fats and sugars for our pets. If you must feed “people food” stick to vegetables like carrots or green beans which make great low-calorie treats. Or you can just try using your pet’s dry food kibble as treats throughout the day, a little here or there. Keep in mind, too, that you don’t need to give your pet a massive handful of treats to show them you love them or to reward them. They are just as happy with a small nugget here and there; it’s still a treat!

If you make these changes to your routine when feeding your pet you should see gradual weight loss and maybe even notice positive changes in them like an increase in energy and activity levels, not to mention the health benefits like decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes and decreased stress on their joints, just to name a few! Then when the weather gets nice again you can supplement these great new habits with exercise outside to maintain their weight loss you’ve worked so hard to achieve and keep your pet (and you!) happy and healthy!

By: Dr. Joachim
Pine Bluff Animal Hospital