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Stopping the Insanity of Pet Obesity

pet obesity epidemic
The battle of the bulge is a painful one I've fought repeatedly — and if watching the news in the last few decades has taught me anything, it's that I'm not alone. Unfortunately, the trend towards packing on the pounds is one that we have passed down to our animal companions.

The good news is, once we stop and take accountability for the extra servings, we also realize it is within our power to help our overweight cats and dogs. On today's episode, we discuss the pet obesity epidemic, and provide some simple ways to eliminate extra calories — and you won't even feel like a meanie!

Transcript below

Mia: Welcome back everybody. You're listening to episode 11 of Paws & Play with Dr. J. I am your cohost Mia and I've got Dr. J here with us. How you doing?

Dr. J: I'm doing very well Mia, thank you. How're you?

Mia: Fantastic. I am doing very well, thank you. I mean I had kind of a rough week last week, which we'll get into on our next episode, so stay tuned for that everybody.

Dr. J: Good plug.

Mia: And, I'm excited because we also have a great podcast ahead of us and I want to start with a question from actually one of our listeners who wrote in, her name is Jenny. Thank you so much for, for writing to us and asking the good doctor a question.

So, I just think that this might be a really good intro, actually, to the topic at hand. So, Jenny writes, "Thank you so much for the information. We have a Terrier Yorkie mix, medium size, that'll be eight years old on August 6th — oh so just passed! Happy belated birthday to your dog! My question is why is she always hungry? We feed her at the same time that we're having dinner. She finishes her food and wants what we're eating. We don't give her anything, but we feel guilty that she's watching us eat. Is this normal? She said for her, but I'm just going to say, is this normal in general.

Dr. J: What, dog's begging for food? Unfortunately, probably.

Mia: And the guilt that we feel as owners, I'm going to say is, definitely normal.

Dr. J: Yes. I think that people do feel guilty and I mean, there's a reason why there's the term puppy dog eyes and there's a reason why so many dogs and cats in this country are overweight and obese. I think we tend to give in to those puppy dog and kitten eyes or the incessant meowing, begging, barking whatever it may be.

So good on Jenny for not giving in. So kudos there. But as far as whether or not this is normal and why the dog is giving them the puppy dog eyes, and begging, basically lots of things can be at play, I guess.

The first step I would encourage them to do is just look and make sure that they're feeding the dog enough. Uh, and one of the easiest ways is to look at, you know, the dog's weight and body condition because if, you know, it would be understandable if the dog was asking for more food if it was being underfed, but that's typically not the problem with our cats and dogs.

It may just be a learned behavior if it's something that the dog has been doing for a long time or certainly if they started out giving the dog scraps from the table. I know she says that they're not giving the dog anything from the table currently. But if they had started out doing so, it might've just been a bad habit that—

Mia: Or somebody else, if they ended up adopting a dog.

Dr. J: Correct. Yeah, yeah. You're right. If the dog had a past life before it came to them, or even if they have visitors that come over and do it. And certainly young kids could be a common culprits or even elderly parents. So if you're caring for your parents in the home, you know, they might be intentionally because that's how people use to feed their pets more often is they would feed them from the table back in previous generations. Or if you've got an elderly parent that maybe has dementia or something like that, they might not even realize that they're doing it.

So, you know, exploring those things would be possible or it would be good places to start. If they're feeding their dog the appropriate amount and the dog is at a good weight, and it's not that it needs more food, probably one of the easiest things to do to sort of buy them some freedom while they're eating, so the dog isn't going to be looking at them — obviously you can keep the dog out of the kitchen or the dining room.

Mia: Nobody likes getting stared at while they're eating.

Dr. J: Exactly. And maybe they should turn it around and every time the dog is eating, they should just stare at the dog and see how he likes it. No - I don't recommend that because you want to make sure your dog doesn't bite you if they're a resource guarder.

But, you know, one of the things that they could do is, she said that they're feeding their dog at the same time they're eating. One thing I would encourage them to do then, perhaps, is to feed the dog in an interactive feeder or like a puzzle feeder.

Slowing down your dog's eating with interactive feeders || Interactive feeders to amuse your kitty

Those will slow dogs down tremendously with their rate of eating, which is great for a variety of reasons. In her case, it may just be the simple fact that it then prolongs their dog's eating of their own food, so that they have less time to sit and beg and stare at the people while they're eating. So I would recommend that.

If that doesn't do the trick, or if the dog is underweight and they feel like they're feeding them an appropriate amount, or certainly if the dog is overweight and they feel like they're feeding an appropriate amount, I would encourage them to chat with their vet because there are medical conditions that can either increase or decrease the amount of food that a pet needs, and how it can impact their overall health and their weight.

Mia: Sure. Which, I mean, we're gonna jump right into that. And one little thing on the interactive feeders, there are many kinds. My Marshall, and Mazel actually, both have a little ball thing. So, one little thing that I would just tack onto that is, if you're going to have a romantic dinner, I would not suggest using the one with the ball because it's very loud, but Marshall loves his.

Dr. J: So I would say one of the ones that I love, and has literally slowed my dog down because she just gets kibble in the evening — it slowed her down from about 10 seconds of inhaling what I gave her, to about three to five minutes — is the Green Feeder by Northmate, I have to say I love it, and it really, it does the trick and it could be used with both dry food and wet food. So that would be a good one for people to check out. 

To see a slow feeder in action, check out Loki enjoying his.

 

Mia: Oh, with wet food? I honestly had never even thought about wet food in an interactive feeder. Interesting.

Dr. J: Yeah, that's one of the things that I really like about that one.

Mia: Okay, well I'll have to check it out.

Dr. J: It could be washed in the dishwasher.

Mia: Also an important factor, I definitely have to check that out. All right. So pet obesity, and Jenny again, thank you so much for your question. It's an important thing to think about because we can feel so guilty, but it's like obesity for pets and for humans is on the rise. Dr J., how big of an epidemic is this? I mean, just looking at — um, and I went to fat camp twice, so I feel uniquely qualified to be talking about this — even though nobody gave me an interactive feeder and maybe they should have.

Dr. J: There's the trick. That's how we're going to start feeding you at the office. We're just going to be chucking you stuffed Kongs and whatnot.

Mia: Amazing.

Dr. J: No, Dr. Ernie Ward, who's another, a great veterinarian. He's got his association for pet owners for pet obesity prevention, and they do a survey annually, I believe it is. And the most recent data is showing that, about 56% of dogs and about 60% of cats in North America are either overweight or obese.

And even in a way more concerning than those numbers, and those are very concerning numbers don't get me wrong, but one of the big things that they found early on when they launched this association is that the vast majority of pet owners with obese or overweight pets didn't recognize that their pets were actually obese or overweight.

And of course we all know you can't avoid or solve a problem until you realize that it actually is a problem. Right? So hopefully people are starting to realize that and realize that the other problem is that obesity and overweight-ness confer onto pets. And so hopefully this podcast will help raise that awareness.

Mia: Yeah. So, I mean, I think that there are some obvious physical signs — or maybe they're not that obvious. I mean, if most owners of over half of the dog and cat population in North America don't recognize it, I guess maybe we really aren't good at recognizing the obvious physical signs.

Dr. J: I think it's more a matter, perhaps, of denial than a lack of recognition. You know, I mean overweight and obese, it should be fairly straightforward once people realize what a normal body condition for a cat or dog is.

Of course, it's a little bit more difficult with dogs because dogs like say Boxers that are more barrel chested, that are very different than say Basset Hounds, which are just sort of kind of normally a little bit more sausage-like, or Dachshund, as opposed to Chihuahua as it should just be really quite tiny and skinny, so it certainly can be a bit more difficult.

But once people realize what the body condition, ideal body condition, should be for their pet, it should be pretty easy to recognize because they have more fat deposition around their hips, around their waist, on their chest.

And then for cats, one of the most telling signs is when their belly is dragging along the ground as they're walking or— and it doesn't have to actually reach the ground — but if they've got a little dewlap of fat under them and when it sways side to side while they're running, if they run, those are pets that are overweight and certainly obese.

And I think, perhaps another part of the problem is that we always, there's the term of "fat cat," and that tends to be like a, in a way sort of a big, a good thing, at least when we say it about people, about someone who's sort of made it, they're wealthy, they're well off, whatever it might be. So maybe there's some connection there too, like a fat

Mia: Like that's a good thing?

Dr. J: Yeah. Like they're well fed, they're not out on the street starving. They're not scavaging for food in the wild. But actually it can be a very significant problem.

Mia: I mean, as you were saying that of course about the belly kind of flapping in the wind as they — you know, it sounds, it is, cute in my head, but obviously it's not so cute when it comes to their overall health.

So, you know, you mentioned body condition, um, what does, what does that mean exactly? Because like, you know, I can get on the scale and it can say one thing, but it doesn't mean necessarily that it looks that good or that bad for that matter. And then, I remember back in gym class or whatever it was where they had to take the pinchers and test your body fat.

Dr. J: Oh, I remember that, not very fondly, myself.

Mia: And so like is there something happening like that for dogs or cats? All of them.

Dr. J: There can be. I mean there's ways to measure body fat on cats and dogs, but that's not really what I'm talking about, what's normally done.

But, so there's the number on the scale, that's their weight, but that will vary based on the type of breed they are and their body structure, their confirmation. But body condition score is basically, it's kind of subjective, but it's trying to be objective, in that it's something that's repeatable and everyone can do.

So it's a scale either, from a one to nine or one to five depending on what you follow.

Cat Body Condition Score Chart || Dog Body Condition Score Chart

But it's basically looking at a few factors, which is how prominent your dog or cat's ribs are, how well you can see them, and/or feel them. And so you want to be able to see them a little bit, but you want to be able to feel them without having to press through too much fat on the side of their chest.

So that's kind of one of the markers that you look at it. Then you look at their waist, do they sort of come in, not necessarily hourglass, but do they come in a little bit at the waist as their chest cavity ends and they go into their abdominal cavity.

When you look at them from this side, do they actually have a little abdominal tuck? Like, does it come from their chest and then kind of dip up? If that's the right way? But like is there a change there or are they just, again, a sausage shape where they just go basically from their chest back to their back legs?

And then also the amount of fat cover that they have over their back, over their what are called the Epaxial muscles, which are what surround the spinal column and the vertebral column. And then do they have too much fat over the back of their hips and the base of their tail?

So it's something that people can learn to do at home quite readily and that we do in the practice pretty much with every exam. Certainly every wellness exam as you try and get a gauge of what their body condition score is. And the ideal on the scale out of nine is a five. And so that means that you can feel the ribs without having depressed too hard. They have a little bit of an abdominal tuck and they don't have too much fat over their back or their base of their tail or their hips.

And then it goes up from there with nine basically being that they are just, like an ottoman. I mean, not really, and maybe I shouldn't joke about that because that might give people a false sense of security if their dog doesn't look like an ottoman, they could still be a nine.

But it basically means that you've got to push through, like you maybe can't even feel their ribs. They have no abdominal tuck and their back, instead of kind of having a nice slope, basically it looks like a little — you know those birds that everyone draws very crudely at the sea? You know, just like the "v," so it actually tucks in the middle?

Mia: I draw everything crudely.

Dr. J: Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, and that would be a very obese dog. I mean, obese basically means a body condition score of an eight or a nine on the scale of nine. And that equates typically to about roughly sort of 30% over their ideal body weight.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you've got the one out of nine, which is basically, they're kind of emaciated, like you can see their ribs pretty clear as day and they don't have a lot of muscle coverage, or fat coverage over their back or anything like that. So it goes, it runs the range, but people really should learn how to check body condition score on their pets because it is another thing to help guide whether or not they're at a healthy weight body condition. So it's good to know.

Mia: I think a lot of us concentrate on numbers a lot, but it sounds like actually maybe even almost more importantly is looking at the body composition for your pet in particular.

Dr. J: Yeah. And taking those two things together is really the most helpful.

Mia: Right. I mean this brings up a really good question. How many extra pounds or even ounces would, would be considered obese versus just pleasantly plump, or husky, as they said back in the day? Not the breed.

Dr. J: Right. It depends on the pet because, say for a cat that should normally be, say 10 pounds, the addition of an additional pound, that's 10 percent over their ideal body weight, as opposed to say like in a dog, let's say a 35 pounder, or let's do easy math, a 50 pound dog, 10 percent over where they would need to be 55 pounds.

So in terms of numbers, it's tough to say, but again, for obese we're typically looking at about 30% higher than their ideal body weight.

And I don't remember the number exactly, but just to be considered overweight, I think it's somewhere in the range of around 15, 10 to 15% over. Again, it's a wider range because you know, we really want to be at the ideal body weight and ideal body condition for our pets.

But again, for smaller pets it's going to be a smaller amount of pounds and/or ounces, whereas there's a little bit more leeway in larger pets. I mean, what I always tell people in the exam room is, if I've got a cat that say again, ideal body weight should be around 10 pounds. If they're 13, 14 pounds, they're 30 to 40 percent over their ideal body weight.

I mean I weigh roughly 200 pounds, which is not exactly my ideal body weight. So I'm definitely over. But if I took that as my ideal body weight, to be 30 pounds, 30% or 40% over, I'd be weighing in at 260, 280 pounds. That's significant. I think when people think about it in terms of their own weight, it becomes a little bit more obvious about how much of an impact that can have on their pets too.

Mia: Yeah. No, that's a great note. And I mean obviously it's not just about vanity. I don't think they're really trying to fit into the costumes that we buy them.

Dr. J: No, they don't have all the marketing and all the photoshopping and airbrushing that we have to contend with.

Mia: Right, right. So, just briefly, because I know that there are a lot, but like, what should we really be worried about with the obesity?

Dr. J: You mean in terms of like how it impacts their health? The biggest thing for me and that I really try and impress on people, is that one of the biggest things is that it really does impact their comfort. When they're carrying around additional weight, especially since we know that a lot of cats are walking around with undiagnosed arthritis, that's putting additional strain on their joints and that equates to pain, and the same thing for dogs.

So it's painful. It increases their risk for, especially in dogs, for heat stroke. It increases risk of heart disease, it increases a risk of diabetes, it increases risk of high blood pressure. A lot of cats that are overweight don't groom themselves as well, so they wind up with mats, they wind up with skin disease.

And a lot of dogs that are overweight wind up with a chronic skin infections or recurrent skin infections or they can wind up with a chronic or recurrent urinary tract infections. So it's got a ton of impact for pets and it's a real quality of life issue for them as well and it and it can shorten their lifespan.

Mia: Quality of life is super important. So now, okay, so let's get into like some things that we can do to help, especially since a lot of us probably unknowingly have obese animals living with us who we love.

It'll obviously, again, probably vary depending on size, age, breed, and obviously, you know, cat versus dog. But in general, is there a guide to how quickly or slowly our animals should be losing weight? Because obviously I think it's gonna take a little while.

Dr. J: It does. Well, I mean, if we think about it, for a lot of these pets, it took months to years to get this excess weight on. It typically didn't happen overnight. I mean, if your pet gained several pounds or several percentage of their body weight overnight or over a few days, go to the vet immediately, because that may be a sign of heart disease, or liver disease, or some really serious pathologic problem.

But for most of these pets it's, it's been happening over months or years, so it should take you weeks to months really to get that weight off of them. And so generally speaking, and again, the best way to do weight loss is to do it in conjunction with your vet and to come up with a plan. But generally speaking, pets, to be safe, should be losing about 1–2% of their body weight per month.

And, again, for a cat, you're looking at 0.1 pounds. Like again, if it's a 10 pound cat, you're looking at, 0.1–0.2  pounds per month. So for a lot of scales that's going to be missed, because they're not necessarily that sensitive or that accurate. But it should go pretty slowly.

And you should be tracking it, probably like on a weekly basis. Like keeping a log book. What I usually tell people for smaller pets, for small dogs and for cats, if you've got a bathroom scale at home, just weigh yourself and then pick up your pet and weigh the two of you together. Do the subtraction, figure out what your pet ways, and then keep a log book and track how the weight loss is going and figure out what percentage it has been every week.

And then for larger pets, it's probably more practical, or easier to go to your vet on a weekly basis and just do a weigh-in and. And most vets don't charge for that, and in fact it's a great opportunity to socialize your pet, your dog, to the practice and going in for something other than shots or temperature taking and stuff.

It's a great socialization visit really. And then they can record the weight and track it and see how your progress is doing. But you should also keep a log book just so you know. And you can detect a good weight loss or not.

Mia: Oh my, I'm having Weight Watchers flashbacks of going in weekly and weighing in. That would actually be pretty cute if you, if there was like a weight watchers for for animals.

weight watchers flashbacks

Dr. J: Like a support group. Yeah that'd be awesome. I wonder if Gary Larson ever did a Far Side cartoon about that. I really hope there's a cartoonist out there. Let's do it. Let's make it happen.

Mia: Oh I love Gary Larson. All right, great. So 1–2% of body weight per month. Actually this is a good question, if they seem to be going at a faster rate, should we slow it down? Or I mean, I guess maybe this is a great time to check in with your vet on something like that, but good to have this as a guide.

So, okay, let's say that, well, we already know that they need to lose weight, but it obviously, as Jenny pointed out, is not easy to do, even when your animal seems to be or is the right weight, it's difficult to deny their faces.

So what kinds of adjustments to their meals, and everything else, should we consider? Like how do we dive into this? Because also I know that, you know, just changing their food, especially for dogs, can be a problem because you don't want to change it too quickly.

Dr. J: I mean if you're going to do a diet change, like in terms of the brand, the flavor and stuff, ideally do that slowly, but it doesn't always require a change in food.

You know, really the main thing is evaluate how much you're feeding them. Keep in mind that the recommendations for the amount of feed on the back of a bag of kibble, or even on cans of wet food, oftentimes, it's a guideline. It's a very rough guideline, and so for many pets that might be excessive depending on the amount of energy that they're expending with exercise and activity throughout the day and any other medical conditions that they may or may not have.

Measuring your pet's food — when a cup is not a cup

So really get a sense of what you're feeding. Like really quantitate it. You know, unfortunately a lot of people would just fill up a dog bowl or cat bowl with kibble without ever measuring it or weighing it so they don't really know how much they're giving or how much that pet is eating.

And of course all this stuff is a little bit more difficult when you've got multiple pets in the house, but start there, like actually quantitate, measure, weigh the amount of food that you're giving them on a daily basis and also take stock of the treats that you're giving them, you know, ideally nothing from the table, but even, you know, like their actual dog or cat treats or bully sticks or peanut butter stuffed Kongs, like whatever it might be.

Everything that goes through their mouth. Get a sense of what they're getting on a daily basis and then start to see where you can cut back. I mean, one of the easiest things to do is with their treats. If they're getting a lot of treats, the simple thing is to break those treats in half. If you can break them in quarters and then still give them the same number of treats, but you're giving them half or a quarter of the calories by just breaking them in half or breaking them in quarters.

And they should only be getting about roughly 10% of their daily calories from treats of any kind. So that's one place to start.

Replacing treats entirely with safer fruits and veggies. So, slices of apple or carrots or green beans, things of that nature. You can replace those there.

If you are giving, let's say, peanut butter stuffed Kongs to entertain them in their crate or whatever, maybe evaluate what it is you're stuffing it with. You don't want necessarily want to stuff it entirely with peanut butter. Do a lower calorie mixture and just use a little bit of peanut butter to give it the flavor. So there's easy ways to scale back.

But of course also the kibble, the wet food you're giving them, that's an easy place to start to scale back as well. It's oftentimes, depending on how people are feeding, it's oftentimes not a ton that you've got to scale back. I'll often recommend like start by cutting back about 5–10%, and then tracking their weight weekly for a couple of weeks and see if that's getting you the weight loss.

If it isn't, knock it back another 5–10%, and then keep tracking. Now you do have to be careful with just paring back on their kibble, or their canned food, because that is, ideally nutritionally balanced. So as you're scaling back to give them fewer calories, you may also be giving them less of the other nutrients that they need, so they can get into a nutrient imbalance which could actually hinder their weight loss. So in the end, if that winds up being the case, it may be time to chat with your vet about going on an actual prescription weight loss food for your pet because that would help to minimize those risks.

But those are some simple things people can do that you can also, again, if you're giving treats our cats and dogs just care that they're getting something from us. Maybe save back 10–15% of their kibble on the side as their treats throughout the day and give them their regular food is treats. If they like it, that's awesome. They're still getting something and you're not adding any additional calories.

And if it's a matter of them, you know, maybe as Jenny's dog is doing and sort of begging after eating, slow them down, give them an interactive feeder or a feeding puzzle, something that will make them work for their food, which oftentimes if it's something that's mobile will give them some physical exercise as well. So that'll help with weight loss, but it also slow them down and they'll hopefully feel full after they're done because their body will get that signal as opposed to just scarfing it down and then just going, okay, what's next to eat? So those are all some, some tricks that people can do.

Mia: Yeah, no that's great. And that's actually one that I regularly like to do with Marshall. Like sometimes he doesn't even care about his kibble in the bowl, he's a later eater and if I like need to give him a pill and he has to eat something, sometimes if I just grab some of the kibble from his bowl, like a handful and then do like training or trick exercises with him. He just, he loves it.

But it goes back to the fact that he just wants to hang out with me. He just wants attention and he wants to be engaged. And so maybe that's another thing for Jenny and you know, it's not that she is the or I don't know if it's a boy or a girl dog, but it's not that they necessarily want your food, but certainly your attention and just time with you.

So we've talked a bit about stuff for dogs and obviously taking them on walks and stuff can, can be helpful when this is needed. But for cats that can be a little bit harder, I think, to get them the exercise they need. Especially like if you, are living in an apartment, or just have less space for them to really run around — a dog or a cat. So what are, I guess some, some options there?

Dr. J: You mean for cats? Yeah, well don't forget cats can be trained to walk on leash outside. I mean it's a process, but cats can be trained to walk on leash. And you know, you don't need a ton of space really to play with your cat, I mean, laser pointers and feather toys and all that stuff. You can just get them active. It doesn't require a ton of space, dragging it along, your furniture and stuff like that. Just getting them moving will help them burn calories. Again, you could put their food in an interactive feeder to slow them down and make them sort of hunt and work for it, which is great. I mean that's also just great for environmental enrichment and decreasing stress and things of that nature.

And there are interactive feeders for cats out there that, that can accommodate wet food, and others obviously that are more ideal for, for dry food. So that's great. And if they're the only cat in the house and there's certainly, if there's no dogs you can make their feeding time like a scavenger hunt, you know, like you can put little bowls of food or little interactive toys all around the house and really make them, you know, help them hunt for their food. Which is great. I mean, it engages their natural hunting instinct.

But I think that those would be some of the things really for cats. One of the big things that I think people have a lot of hard time with, and understandably, is you know we see a lot of older dogs and a lot of older cats that are overweight and a lot of those dogs and cats will potentially have arthritis. And so it can be very difficult. Just like in people, it becomes a sort of vicious cycle.

If you're overweight, you're putting more pressure on your joints and you've got arthritis that's painful, you're less inclined to exercise, which would help you with the weight loss. So I would say for those cases, again, another reason to really work very closely with your vet and make sure that their pain management is good — and that can involve supplements, specific medications, acupuncture or laser therapy, stem cell, you know, if you're going there, there's any number of things, but work with your vet to make sure that your pet is comfortable while they're doing, you know, increasing their exercise, because that'll help all around.

But weight loss is really the main thing that you could do to help improve comfort with arthritic pets. But then also looking at other exercise modalities, it doesn't have to be a strenuous hike.

Mia: No, I don't even like that!

Dr. J: Yeah! You know, it can be like swimming. Swimming is a phenomenal low impact exercise to do. And there are cats that enjoy swimming. So that's still on the table for cats although, certainly a little bit more difficult. But, get creative with the type of exercise and that can help, especially for pets that might have arthritis or other conditions that make it more difficult for them to do really strenuous aerobic exercise.

Mia: That's a really great point. An important one too, and also even if they're not up in age, if they have been carrying, even if they're younger, but I've been carrying around a lot of extra body weight, you know, they could be already showing some of the signs of arthritis or something similar to that. Right. It's going to be uncomfortable. It's gonna take a little while to get used to.

Dr. J: What a lot of people find is that once they get weight off of their — maybe they have an arthritic pet that's overweight, the pet's been on pain medication and supplements for a while. And then they start getting the weight off of them. Oftentimes you can actually come down on the pain management stuff, one, because they're now a lower body weight and so their dosage goes down, although some meds are dosed based on lean body weight, but also because the pain is potentially less, so, it just really depends.

And I guess maybe that's a good opportunity to sort of just interject here, sometimes despite people's best efforts to get the weight off of their pets, and, and that really is the key is it really requires us to change our behavior, because you know, cats and dogs don't have opposable thumbs.

They don't, for the most part, they don't go into the cupboard and help themselves to treat, although some do, but then it's just pet proofing you've got to be better at.

But it really is us overfeeding them, overtreating them, under-exercising them or you know, other people in the home doing such.

But if you're doing your best efforts and you really are not overfeeding them, not overtreating them and you are exercising them and they're not losing weight, there may be an underlying medical condition.

Especially for dogs, one of the big ones is an underactive thyroid. And so if you've kind of hit this plateau, or if you're doing all of these things and they're not losing weight, they really need to be checked out by your vet, to have the metabolic workup to make sure that their thyroid is normal, that they don't maybe have Cushing's disease, that maybe there's not a tumor growing or they have heart disease and so they're retaining water. There's all kinds of reasons. So don't get discouraged.

Really your vet really is truly your best friend in this to help you come up with a plan. And again, some pets really do need a prescription weight loss diet, maybe not forever, but at least to get the weight down, and it can make a big difference

Mia: Again, excellent points. All right, well are there any other tips that we can give to our friend Jenny or anyone else dealing with a cat belly hanging on the ground as they start running?

Dr. J: Yeah, you mean just generally in terms of helping with weight loss in their pets? I think typically the low hanging fruit are there treats. And I think that people don't really have a good appreciation, because they're not marketed this way, but a lot of treats have a lot of calories, given how many we tend to give pets.

And so really recognizing that that's probably one of the easiest places to start, to decrease that. I mean I think it was a couple years back, there was a study where they looked at a very common and popular treat for dogs are bully sticks. And I think they did a study, I think it might've been out of Canada, if I remember correctly, but they realized that like, the average bully stick is like 90 calories or something like that.

Mia: 90?

Dr. J: Yeah, it's somewhere around 90–100 calories or something like that for an average bully stick. And so, for like say a 50 pound dog that may be, depending on what their calorie needs are, like that may actually be about 10 percent of their daily caloric needs.

So with one bully stick that may be your entire ration of treat calories for that dog. Whereas so for a 10 pound dog an average bully stick, I mean that may completely blow them off the scale. I mean that could be, you know, 25, 30% of their calories that they should be getting for the day.

So really evaluate what you're giving them for treats because those tend to be the empty calories and the low hanging fruit where you can really make a big difference.

And the other thing I'll say, because I've heard it so many times in clinic, is again, if you're having trouble getting weight off of your pet and you yourself are doing everything you can and you're doing it right, look at the behavior of everybody else in the family and the home.

I've talked to a number of women who basically say, I'm doing everything but I can't change my husband's behavior. Or like my, my parents' behavior, you know, they're in the home. I can't get them to stop feeding table scraps or whatever. They just feel bad. They feel like this is what you should do for your dog. This is how you show love. Like try and really work on them to change their behavior.

But if you can't, again, if you've got an elderly parent living with you that maybe has dementia or Alzheimer's and they just, they're automatically going to give something. If it's difficult to change their behavior, change what they're able to give your pets. So if it's, instead of giving, you know the pieces of chicken or the skin from your chicken or turkey dinner, like the meat scraps, give that person just a little dish of green beans or apple slices or something like that next to them.

So if they have to give them something from the table — again, it's not ideal — but if they have to do it and they won't change, give them healthier things to feed them.

Mia: That's a great tip.

Dr. J: And you can at least have some impact. So again, and this is probably sexist, but this is what it turns out to be in the clinic, is most women are saying like, it's my husband. And we guys can be a little bit stubborn.

Mia: I'm glad you said all of this. I don't have the ability.

Dr. J: I will grant that, totally. Yeah. No, I will completely throw my gender under the bus when it comes to this. Although I personally, of course, don't consider myself stubborn, not even remotely.

I mean really just look at changing other people's behaviors and if you can't at least change what they are able to give them, and that can help.

Mia: Awesome. Will I love that tip. Thank you. Um, and uh, it makes me feel better about having some carrot sticks on the ready to give to Marshall. Well, awesome. Dr. J, thank you so much, I hope that this helps people out.

Because I think that the hardest thing really is just feeling like you're denying them, which is what Jenny's obviously going through. But by denying them we're helping them with so much more.

Dr. J: And what I tell people, too, in the clinic is like, you know, those puppy dog eyes or those kitten eyes and the meowing that maybe makes you sad and you want to give in and the guilts you, I can tell you that looking into the eyes of a pet that is suffering with obesity, or worse arthritis and pain from arthritis, or chronic skin issues, or chronic urinary tract infections that are related at least in part to obesity, or knowing potentially your pet didn't live as long or as comfortably because you weren't able to resist those puppy dog eyes and that begging, that can actually be worse guilt.

And so, you're actually doing better by them by denying them that begging, and changing yours and other people's behaviors and helping them achieve a healthy body weight. I mean pets that are overweight are at higher risk of anesthetic complications.

They require higher dosages of drugs sometimes, they go through more food, so it's even more costly for you financially. So you're really doing the best by them by not letting them get overweight or obese or helping them correct that situation.

So to shake off that guilt, just realize, feel good about yourself by denying them that, and really, instead of showing them your love with additional food and treats, spending a little bit more time if you can, or just spending more quality time even if the amount of time that you're able to spend with them is limited.

Mia: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that can also go for human babies. Well thank you so much Dr. J this has been a lot of great info. And please join us again soon.

Dr. J: I will do. 

Topics: Dog Tips, Cat Tips, paws and play, Pet Obesity

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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