Our patients are getting fatter. The latest data from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reveals over half
the nation's dogs and cats are overweight or obese.* With increasing weight comes increased weight-related disorders, especially
osteoarthritis and type 2 diabetes. It's up to veterinarians to reverse this trend and save our patients from suffering needlessly.
While this task may be daunting, we can succeed. Here are tips on how you can help your clients in the quest to get their
pets from fat and feeble to lean and lively.
Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM
The first step in combating obesity is recognition. This is best accomplished by comparing the pet's historical weight trends
with its current weight. If you observe that a pet gained 3 pounds during the previous two years, something has changed. Often
it's a combination of changes in diet, treats, and lifestyle. Because weight gain is insidious, most pet owners fail to appreciate
a few extra pounds over a year or two. "But, doc, it's only 2 pounds since last year." Pet owners need to understand that
weight gained slowly is just as deadly as weight gained rapidly. As part of each physical examination report, document the
last two weights. If you recognize weight gain early, your chances of preventing morbid obesity are greatly improved. If you
wait to speak up until a pet is obese, the client is less likely to feel he or she can change the pet's feeding or exercise
habits and is often left wondering, "Why did he just begin talking about my pet's weight now?"
Another important aspect in evaluating overweight pets is recognizing underlying health conditions. I recommend every obese
patient undergo complete blood tests, urinalysis, and blood pressure evaluation. Many times we'll discover an emerging problem
such as early kidney disease, elevated blood glucose concentrations, or hypertension. If an overweight pet is not displaying
outward signs of illness, these abnormal results may convince the owner that change is needed. Further, if a pet has hypothyroidism,
a weight loss program is unlikely to be effective. I recommend you create a "weight loss workup" program that includes a physical
examination, diagnostic tests, nutritional counseling, and follow-up visits. You can then schedule future check-ins with your
trained technicians. If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes a team to shed a pound.
Clients need specific recommendations to help their pets lose weight. It's not good enough to simply advise a client to "feed
a low-calorie diet" or "exercise more." Weight loss should be addressed as any other medical condition: history, diagnostic
tests, treatment, and prognosis. We'd never dream of telling a client to "give an antibiotic" for an infection, yet that is
exactly what we are doing if we fail to give specific weight loss recommendations. Our clients need us to specify the daily
calories and amount to feed, the brands to choose, and our expectations. Additionally, we need to create detailed exercise
regimens. It can be as simple as "walk Scooter for 25 minutes at a brisk pace daily, and try for a 45-minute walk on the weekends."
The best approach to weight loss is one that promotes fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass. As pets lose weight and
gain muscle, clients often report an increase in activity levels, enthusiasm, and greeting behaviors and playfulness. I typically
recommend a higher-protein, low-calorie formulation as a starting diet for my weight loss patients. I also look for diets
that supply essential nutrients that support joint health and mobility such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine/chondroitin.
Weight loss isn't about starvation or deprivation; it's about safe and sustainable lifestyle changes. We're not simply chasing
a number on a scale; we're improving overall quality of life. Whatever your weight loss approach, keep in mind the goal is
to improve health and prolong life, not just to get skinny. Choose diets that support optimal health and enhance overall wellness
while helping lose weight safely. With today's scientifically formulated weight loss diets, we can have it all.