Dog News

Dr. Marty Becker on Pet Obesity

by Dr. Marty Becker, DVM

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As I drove down our one-mile lane in heavy snow, a neighbor stuck his head out of the door and waved me over to his home. After a warm hello, he pointed to Misty, his obese Bichon Frise, and asked, “Is she overweight?” Before I could answer, he added, “We think she’s just got a lot of hair!”

What “big-boned” is to big people, “fluffy” is to big pets.

In surveys about pet body types (ideal, overweight, obese), about half of pet lovers with obese pets said their pets were at an ideal body weight. Because we equate food with love, we’re killing our pets with kindness.

We are putting too much food in our pets’ mouths and too few miles on their feet. Working dogs, once born to herd, guard or retrieve, are now born retired. The end result?  About half of American pets are overweight or obese. This pet-health epidemic increases the risk of diabetes, heart and joint problems, and cancer and skin problems.

Losing just 20 percent of excess weight results in 50 percent improvement in pet health. One long-term study showed pets at their ideal body weight living 15 percent longer, an average of two years.

To reverse health problems and tap into the furry fountain of youth, help your dog lose weight in 2011 with these seven tips.

1. Walk away the weight. Famed human-obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner, working with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Hill’s Nutrition, did a landmark study called “People and Pets Exercising Together,” which found that overweight people and their pets not only lost weight but also kept the weight off by dieting and exercising together. I teamed with Dr. Kushner and wrote “Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner’s Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together” (Three Rivers Press), which details a proven, personalized and progressive program for losing weight and getting healthier.

2. Consider a change in diet. Talk to your veterinarian about a diet pet food that has lower calories and fat, and special ingredients to help burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass. A prescription diet may be a big part of any weight-loss plan. In addition, large pet retailers have picked up on the fact that pet parents often need guidance on proper pet nutrition. PETCO recently launched PETCO Certified Nutrition, which means all store associates receive extensive pet nutrition training so they are able to guide you through the complicated food selection process. They also smartly assess a pet’s nutritional needs based on a variety of factors including age, breed, weight, activity level, skin and coat issues, etc. Hopefully you rarely have a need to visit your vets office, so when you do have nutrition questions, resources like PETCO Certified Nutrition are easily accessible.

3. Maintain portion control. Labrador retrievers put on a controlled diet safely lost 2 percent of their body weight each week. A similar group of Labradors put on a diet at home lost less than one-quarter that amount because the food at home was “guesstimated,” seemingly on the high side. Invest in a measuring cup, and feed exactly the amount recommended by your veterinarian. A new product available from your veterinarian is the Hill’s® Prescription Diet® Therapeutic Weight Reduction Program, which makes the treatment of overweight and obese dogs a no-brainer – the portions are measured out for you.

4. Split portions. Your dog may feel more satiated if you split his total daily allotment into three equal feedings. If your dog doesn’t eat right away, don’t worry. In the wild, it would be normal to skip a meal now and again. One cause of obesity is owners “doctoring up” food to be more tasty when dogs walk away from a meal.

5. Healthy snacking. Everybody, even veterinarians, enjoy giving pets treats. Try healthier choices such as whole baby carrots, apple slices, green beans and so on.

6. Play the slots. In Las Vegas, you don’t expect to win on every pull, hand or cast. It’s the anticipation that keeps you going. Instead of constantly handing treats to your dog, give intermittent treats to amp up the expectation of winning for your dog. Offer pieces of dog kibble as treats, with occasional “jackpot items” such as freeze-dried meat or fresh cooked poultry meat, skin removed.

7. Use food puzzles. Today, dogs mindlessly chow down what’s been put in their bowls, leaving them bored, overweight and acting out with behavioral problems. By using food puzzles such a stuffed Kong or the Busy Buddy toys from Premier, you allow the dog to work for his food and feel more satisfied, both physically and emotionally. Food puzzles are available through pet-supply stores on online pet-supply retailers.

Stop making excuses for your “fluffy” pet. Take a few simple steps, and your pet will be healthier and happier.