Losing weight – how to get started
Weight loss is tough for anyone: two- or four-legged! However, losing weight can add not only years to your pet’s life; it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. Shedding a few kilos off your cuddly canine, furry feline or lop-eared lagomorph may be easier than you think. It simply requires understanding the need for weight loss and fitness, attention to details and simple assistance from us, your veterinary healthcare team. At CalviàVet, we feel so strongly about getting our patients slim and trim that we offer a free weight loss programme after our initial assessment for as long as it takes- regular weigh-ins, advice and diet adjustments will cost you nothing! And since September is our designated WEIGHT-LOSS MONTH we won´t even charge a consultation fee for your first visit, so there is absolutely NO excuse to keep ignoring those fat rolls!
Why a Healthy Weight is Important for your Pet
As few as 1 kilo above your pet´s ideal weight can put it at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, when an animal is overweight or obese it´s no longer is a question of “if” your dog will develop a condition secondary to the excess weight but “how many and how soon!” Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include: -Type 2 diabetes -Respiratory Disease -Heart Disease -Osteoarthritis -High blood pressure -Many forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers Further, overweight and obese individuals are expected to live shorter lives than their fitter, normal weight counterparts. Heavy pets tend to interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful. Because they tend to lie around more, it is easy to overlook illnesses since we attribute their lethargy to their “normal laziness.”
Start with the Right Regimen
For weight loss, the formula seems simple enough: fewer calories in, plus more calories out equals weight loss. But, be careful: you should never put your animal on a diet without the assistance of your vet. For dogs, this is due to the fact that there may be a medical condition that is causing the excess fat storage. Hormonal diseases associated with weight gain include hypothyroidism, insulinoma and hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease. These diseases, along with others, should be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight issue prior to beginning a diet. And as for cats… their physiology is different to humans or dogs and if they do not eat for as little as two consecutive days, they can develop a life-threatening form of liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis. For this reason, care must be taken when introducing a change in feeding. It is vital that we calculate quantities correctly: Feeding too much will result in no weight loss and feeding too little can result in serious consequences for cats. The most simple and obvious type of weight loss programme would logically involve cutting back on the total amount fed per 24 hrs by around 15-25 percent. In all the years that we have been in practice we have found this method to be the least effective! Strange but true! After the first few days we find that owners are so tired of their pet´s constant begging and discontent with this sudden decrease in their food supply that they will often just give up right at the start! Other clients report that, despite feeding up to a third less food, the pet has stayed exactly the same weight- or even gained a kilo! We are yet to find exactly why this occurs so commonly, but suspect the wiley pet probably finds themselves a less resolved family member who feels sorry for them and is secretly topping them up with treats (!) or it´s even possible that the lack of food causes a drop in metabolism or perhaps they become even less active than before, thus expending fewer calories! It´s not to say that staying on the same diet and just cutting it back never works- of course it can- but it requires a good deal of resolve and patience on the part of the whole family! We have also had disappointing results with changing pets onto “Light” diets. These diets are useful for maintaining weight and preventing weight gain but ineffective for weight loss. There are a number of specialised veterinary weight loss diets now available and we have found feeding these in strictly measured daily quantities along with regular weigh-ins and chats with us to encourage owners or make any necessary changes, works really well in nearly all cases.
The Art of Changing Diet
When you are introducing a new diet, allow several days for the transition. In general, we recommend gradually adding the new diet over a one week period. Start by substituting one-quarter of the diet for one to two days, then increase to one-half total volume of food for another two days, then three-quarter new food for a final two to three days before completely switching to the new diet.
Exercise the Right Way
DOGS: Based on observations of people walking with their dogs, most people actually go for a slow stroll with frequent pauses to allow their dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. We’re here to fight the flab, people! Walking for weight loss is very different to walking for pleasure. Make your objective to walk briskly – focus on the “out” leg of your walk and then you can smell the roses on the “back” leg. We recommend starting the activity with the brisk or “hard” effort first. Too often if we try to start slowly with the dog, allowing them to sniff and smell everything, we may have a challenging time getting them up to speed when we’re ready. Games like fetch will expend heaps of energy so are always a great option provided you don´t overdo it in the case of animals suffering from arthritis or cardiorespiratory problems! CATS: Cats are generally sedentary animals who do their best to expend as little energy as possible apart from when hunting for food. Therefore the secret is to increase their play/hunting activity by making use of feather toys, flashlights, paper bags or balls, anything that your cat finds interesting to chase. Try to engage your cat for at least ten minutes twice a day. You can do this while you eat, watch television or even read. There are numerous toys that move and squeak that may also be interesting to your cat. Experiment and understand that what is exciting today may be boring tomorrow. …And general guidelines for both cats and dogs: – Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs and rotate it so that they always have to walk to get to the food bowl. Fat pets are sly and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they’ll start relocating upstairs, too. – You can even play games to make them find their food by leaving small portions hidden for them to search out or even set up obstace courses with small piles of food along the route! (obviously, this takes time, planning and a sense of mischief on the part of the owner 😉 ) -There are various designs of food bowl/ feeding cubes which can slow down eating times of greedy guzzlers considerably. This stimulates them mentally too!
Rechecks and Weigh-Ins
After we’ve put your dog or cat on a weight loss program, it’s critical that we determine if it’s working for them. Each pet is an individual and may require many changes in diet or routine before finding the correct approach. In general, they should be weighed every 2-4 weeks until the ideal weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss in one month, typically about half a kilo or more, then a new approach should be pursued. There is nothing more frustrating than persisting in a behavior pattern that is not achieving the results we desire when a slight change could deliver significant improvements. We will work closely with you to reach your goals faster and more safely.
What about the cat that claws you awake at four in the morning or the dog who stares at you during dinner or television time until you give in and feed them? Our pets have trained us well and know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to getting their way. Here are some tips for handling begging and pestering: -Pet or play with them when they beg for food. Many pets substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces chowtime. -Walk your dog or take it outside when it begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food. -Feed small meals frequently – especially give a last feeding for those who like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies – divide the total volume of food into four to six smaller meals – whatever you do, don’t feed extra food! -When the bowl is empty and they are making a nuisance of themselves, add a few kibbles to the bowl.(taken from the total daily ration, of course) By a few, try ten or fifteen – not a handful. -Give vegetables such as baby carrots, broccoli, celery and asparagus. Dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy – and low-calorie – choice. – Offer fresh water instead of food. Many pets love fresh water so when they are eyeing the empty food bowl, fill up the water bowl instead.
What do you do if one pet is normal weight and the other is fat? While there are countless creative solutions to this problem, here are a few we’ve found successful -Feed separately – this is the ideal solution for multi-pet households. Feed the heavier animal its diet in one room while feeding the other its food elsewhere. After a prescribed time, generally fifteen to thirty minutes, pick the food up until the next feeding. -Feed the normal weight cat up high where the fat cat or dog can’t go. -Do not leave food out while you’re away. In this scenario you can’t be sure who ate what and the smart money is on the fatty! -If the thinner animal is the smaller pet, feed them in a room with a small dog/cat flap that only they can fit through or secure a door ajar that the portly pet won´t manage to push itself through. Most dogs and cats will achieve their ideal weight within three to eight months. If the process is taking longer than this, something needs to be changed. Remember that the reason for your hard effort is to help your four-legged family member to live a longer, healthier life. For most dogs, the secret to weight loss is a dedicated, committed and concerned family member. Our animals don’t understand that their excess weight is killing them. It’s up to us as good stewards to protect them from harm and not inadvertently contribute to their premature death or development of debilitating diseases. Together – we, your veterinary healthcare team and you– can help your pet achieve its weight loss and fitness goals safely and successfully.