Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fat Tuesday

Yesterday was Tuesday March 13, 2012.

I have said before that I still find it funny how things seem to come in batches.
Yesterday it was fat dogs.

For whatever reason I saw three very fat, (we call them obese and sometimes I throw a "morbid" in front of the obese to drive my point home) dogs in a row. Now there are a multitude of issues we as veterinary medical professional have to address when it comes to obesity in pets.

We have to address all of these;

1. See if the owners also think that their pet is overweight. Denial is a powerful tool of avoidance and if the owners refuse to see that their pet is overweight you can't even begin to tackle how to resolve the problem. (Yes, admitting there is a problem is the first step in overcoming the disease).

2. There is great debate and discussion in veterinary medicine as to how we "delicately and adequately address the problem" with the pet owners. It is documented that the estimates for obesity among household dogs and cats is about 35%. On the human side the statistics are about 50%, (higher in some geographical areas). The statistics are devastating, and the effects of obesity in our pets is just as detrimental as they are in humans. So often the overweight pet is owned by an overweight owner. We don't want to be assigning blame, or issuing guilt, but how do I get an owner who likely doesn't exercise themselves to exercise their pet? The only way I know how to do this is to give the same advice to everyone. For instance, I don't assume someone won't go for a referral if I think it is warranted because they don't look as if they can afford it. I make my recommendations based on what I think is ideal for the pet and then we discuss from there.

3. Discuss how treats play a detrimental role in weight loss. Remember my raw diet blog? If you missed it I learned that a large biscuit is about 200 cals. (That is about equivalent to 1 chocolate chip cookie for us). How many of us can lose weight eating chocolate chip cookies? Try to imagine giving your dog a candy bar every time you are rewarding them. We all get fat from eating candy bars.

4. Once the owners move past the acceptance of the reality that their pet is overweight I ask them what they feed? If they don't know what brand it is, (oddly most owners draw a blank when I ask), then I ask them where they get it? I will say that in general you are not going to find great pet food at the supermarket or big box stores or any store  that touts itself on selling the "cheapest" anything. You get what you pay for AND you are what you eat.

I tell this to my clients all the time. So let me say it again;

You get what you pay for AND you are what you eat.

Therefore, I always recommend that you buy your pets food at either a gourmet high-end pet food store, or PetSmart, Petco, etc., where they have a huge selection of both the low end (don't buy this, well, not unless we tell you to, but that's another topic), and the high end food.

In general, I want my clients to buy the most expensive (lifestyle and breed appropriate) food that they can consistently afford.

5. The question that I am always asked next is, "How much food should I feed?" The answer is always the same for this one. "Every food has a different calorie count, and every pet has a different metabolism and activity level. So one cup of food might be too much, too little, or just perfect for three different dogs that are all 20 pounds."
I will give what I think is an appropriate amount based on how much is being fed now, or what the feeding recommendations are for the food I am switching them to. And then schedule a weight check and re-check in two weeks, and adjust from there.

For those of you doing this weight loss plan at home with your now "great dog food" I recommend that you reduce the amount that you are feeding by 25%, (that means you need to be measuring from now on, and please use a real measuring device, (like a measuring cup), because a "Big Gulp" may be a cup that you use for feeding, but it sure isn't a measuring cup you would use for a recipe, and we all need to be speaking the same language). Feed this amount for two weeks, with no snacks outside of that amount of feeding, and then re-weigh. If your pet hasn't lost any weight then reduce again by 25%. Re-weigh two weeks later. If your pet is not losing weight then have a talk with your Vet. You are either cheating with the snacks, not exercising enough, or have a metabolic disorder.
After you get to your target weight we have to re-adjust the food to maintian this weight.

6. I very clearly understand that the action of giving your pet a treat is a strongly bonding experience. Every pet parent wants to see those sweet begging eyes looking at us with love, affection and longing. And we all know that that face is often tied to a treat. We as parents are very good at rewarding good behavior, and some of us are even very good at rewarding begging. Nothing melts my heart and makes me feel better than seeing my sweet Jekyl-pup looking at me like I am the center of his whole universe. And boy can that Beagle work a snack like a pro. I don't ever want to be telling owners that they can't spoil their pets. If I say "No more treats ever!" I am dooming that plan to failure. Those pups have been trained by snacks, they expect that snack, and if you are Jekyl you are OWED that snack. So snacks are allowed in all of my diet plans. BUT, your snack allowance comes out of your daily calorie allowance.

Jekyl-pup as a puppy. SOOO, cute, you can't say "No" to that! It's not possible.
(I'm getting up to to go give him a treat now)
For instance, if I say that you can feed 1 cup of brand X (usually it is Hill's Science Diet r/d, available by prescription only and only after we have a long talk about everything), twice a day to Fido, then I don't care if you feed a half a cup for breakfast and a half a cup for dinner and use the remaining 1 cup as your "snack allowance" for the rest of the day. Put that 1 cup on the counter, or in the treat jar and trick your pet into thinking it is the "treat" instead of the normal boring food. In most cases they won't know the difference.

And one last note on food and snacks. If it comes with a cartoon on it, or has food that comes in colors that are not of the "normal food color" like that nuclear orange or red, then please think of it as equivalent to kids cereal. The "junk cereals" come with toys, artificial coloring and prizes. It is not the "best quality cereal/food" so don't buy it!
I tell my owners that all of the horrible stuff you hear about overweight people also happens to their overweight pets. Diabetes, cancer, joint disease, heart disease, the list goes on and gets longer every year. Sadly the statistics also get higher.

I also tell people that just like on the human side you don't live a long healthy life and die of old age if you are obese. There is nothing more heartbreaking than having to euthanize a pet because they are no longer able to ambulate on their own and because their joints are shot due to their excessive weight.

Obesity in pets is a result of many things. Certainly a large part of it is lifestyle. Maintaining optimum weight is the balance of calories in and calories out. Or said another way, the amount you eat and the amount of energy you burn.

I will now stick my neck out and say. No pet wants to be fat. They may really want that treat in your hand, but after I have seen the miraculous change in the overall degree of happiness of a pet that has lost its excess fat I will tell all of you that a happy active pet is worth the sacrificed treat every single time.

After all of that discussion of FAT dogs I do need to add that there are some medical conditions that cause pets to put on weight and slow down their metabolism. These conditions are often diagnosed with blood work tests. I strongly encourage any pet that is having difficulty losing weight after all of the above issues have been discussed to have a talk with your Vet about some of the tests that can be run to help rule out thyroid disease, and other endocrine diseases. I have had more than 1 fat Lab turn out to be a hypothyroid fat dog. None of us want to discover that all of the guilt, blame, and interrogation over who is feeding what behind whose back is instead the fault of the thyroid gland being defunct. This discussion at the first fat pet visit will save everyone a whole bunch of grief, and that fat poor dogs time from being wasted in treat withdrawal torture.

I wanted to give you all some idea of what the treats that you are buying and feeding look like in terms of calories. The following list is from PetMD's website. The full article is provided at the bottom.

Here are some calorie counts on some of the most popular treats;

  • Milk Bones: 20 for the tiny ones to 225 calories for the biggest ones
  • BusyBones (by Purina): 309 for the small ones to 618 for the big ones
  • DentaBones (by Pedigree): 105 for the small, 188 for the medium and 300 for the large ones
  • Pig ears are about 130 calories for the small ones
  • Rawhides? 100 to about 600 calories

Here are some low fat, low calorie options;
  • Frozen (or fresh) Green Beans (23 calories per half cup)
  • Frozen (or fresh) Broccoli (20 calories per half cup)
  • Baby Carrots (4 calories each)
  • Apple Slices (32 calories per one half apple)
  • Cantaloupe Slices (30 calories per one half cup)
  • Canned Pumpkin (40 calories per half cup)
  • Air Popped Popcorn (15 calories per half cup)
Ok, After I list those I want to add, these can be used as snacks, or fillers to the great food I hope that you have switched to to make your pet "feel full" without providing excess calories.

After I offer this list I have owners coming in 6 months later and telling me that they feed 1 cup of green beans to their 10 pound dog, or 1 can of pumpkin to their 50 pound dog, and I say, "the treat is a treat, not half of your dogs food allotment."

So I often put a limit on the "acceptable treat" list, like "say 4 carrots a day," etc.

Here are Tusdays dogs. I will introduce each dog in the next few blogs and let you know how they are doing as the weeks go on.

I have asked each of them to come back for routine "weigh-ins." It's our version of Weight Watchers. And because I want this plan to work this time and I am happy to help adjust the plan as we need to.

Here's this season's "Biggest Loser" participant roster;

"Dazzle" the Dachshund. Owned by a devoted mom who wants very much to "fix the weight problem." She weighed 26 pounds, our target weight is about 21-22 pounds.

"Duke" the black Lab. Owned by a wonderful loving family, with a very busy schedule. His current weight is 106 pounds, his target weight is 85-90 pounds.

"Squishy," the happy, snorting, smiling Pug. Owned by a recent widower hear broken by his loss of his wife and hoping to keep her dog alive as long as he can by getting her to her target weight. Her current weight is 20 pounds, her target weight is 16-17 pounds.

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