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Helping Fight Pet Obesity

Obie (from: Associated Press)
Obie (from: Associated Press)

Have you heard of Obie the dachshund?  You know, the one who tipped the scales at 77 pounds (35 kilograms) when an average dachshund weighs 16-32 pounds (7.3-15 kg).  Fortunately, Obie has lost weight and is living a much healthier life now.  One of the biggest health problems facing pets these days is the struggle with weight.  Pets that are overweight unfortunately are at higher risk for diabetes, worsening of arthritis, and heart or breathing problems.  Sure, we as veterinarians up north make some allowances in the springtime as we expect a lot of pets gain weight over the winter.  I know I do and I’ve got to work to lose what I put on.  Strangely, our dogs & cats do not gain weight during the colder months.  So what’s our secret?  No, we don’t do liposuction.  It really is common sense but part of a larger, overall plan.

Cats standing with exercise balls
Time for a kitty workout! (FreshStep ad)

Part 1: EXERCISE – Spring and summer are the time of year for everyone, including the family pet, to get out and be active.  I think many people can be guilty of a little too much couch time (I’ll confess I have been) or not getting Fido out as much due to high temperatures.  There is a movement by the National Football League to get kids outside to play 60 minutes a day and be active.  So is 30-60 minutes too much to ask for your dog?  Just be sure to take along a travel bowl and some water if you plan on any outdoor excursions.  But what about the winter?  You can get your pet exercising by playing indoors with them or working on training.  Just getting them moving will help burn some calories and put them on a healthy track.

Part 2: MEDICAL – Very commonly, when we discuss weight problems with your cat or dog, it is usually due to them being too thin or losing weight and this is typically related to a medical issue such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or cancer.  But what about the other side of the coin when your pet seems to have put on a little extra weight?  There are some medical conditions that will cause weight gain, or give the appearance of it.  If your pet is gaining or losing weight, it is necessary for your veterinarian to examine them to help rule out medical issues in formulating a weight management plan.

dog on scaleThe most common is hypothyroidism which tends to affect middle age to older dogs where metabolism is decreased by a lack of thyroid hormones.  Some breeds do have a predisposition such as Golden Retrievers, Boxers, & Dachshunds to name a few.  Another disease that may give the appearance of weight gain is hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease).  This condition is marked by an increased level of cortisol in the body which among other clinic signs leads to muscle weakening of the abdominal muscles and subsequent abdominal distension or a pot bellied appearance.  For cats, abdominal distension (if not due to weight gain), is often a sign of fluid accumulation due to heart or liver disease for example.

Part 3: FOOD CHOICE & PORTIONS (this is the most important part!!!) – Two things I stress with all my clients are counting calories and measure food portions.  Many people choose to use a “weight control” diet from an over the counter brand.  Unfortunately, not every brand lowers the calories significantly or their general maintenance diets are quite high to begin with.  But more often the issue is how pets are being fed.  Oftentimes, multiple people are helping to feed the pets, animals are free fed (just leaving a bowl out), or portions are not measured.  This can lead to overfeeding and the dreaded weight gain.  “But doctor, it’s impossible to feed my pets separately” or “If I don’t feed him, he cries all the time” are two common responses I get during this discussion.

food cupStep 1: Always measure the food.  Your veterinarian often will have plastic measuring cups from food companies they will give you so you can leave it in the bag.

Step 2: Discuss with your veterinarian the amount of calories your pet needs to maintain or lose weight and strictly adhere to it.

Step 3: Whether you have one pet or five pets, make them have a set mealtime.  Don’t give in and let them snack when they cry out.  If you have multiple pets, close one in the bathroom, one in a bedroom, get a baby gate…whatever, just separate them so that one pet is not overeating while another gets shortchanged.  To adjust your free-fed pet to mealtimes, I recommend giving them 20-30 minutes with the food twice a day then pick it up.  Your pets will learn quickly that this is the time to eat.

Step 4: Limit treats and avoid table foods.

You may find that if you do nothing more than follow the 4 steps above, your pet can lose weight!  You may not even have to change food which is particularly useful for those picky eaters.  As I wrap up here, I want to stress that when we discuss your pets’ weight, it is NOT a reflection on you.  Veterinarians are merely an advocate for your pet.  We have to be their voice.  We truly want them to be healthy and live long, happy lives.  Weight loss and control is part of that process.

Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for a conversation with your veterinarian and regular medical care.

Written by Dr. Ryan Llera 

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Last updated: December 14, 2021

Dear Clients,

With the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in our region, we are temporarily moving back to curbside service. Effective Tuesday, December 14th we are not allowing clients in exam rooms with their pets. Here is what you can expect:

  • Come in to let us know that you're here for your appointment. 2 clients will be allowed at a time in our reception area for food and med pick up and to inform us that they are here for their appointment.
  • Please wait in your car after letting us know you've arrived. Once you have notified us that you are here for your appointment we ask that you wait in your car and we will come out and collect your furry family member for their appointment.
  • The doctor will call once the appointment is done and you can then come back to the reception desk to take care of the invoice and collect your furry family member.
  • Face masks are required when interacting with our team and entering the building. Please sanitze your hands if you come inside.
  • Food and medication pick-ups inside. If there are more than 2 people in our waiting area, we ask that you wait outside until there is sufficient space.
  • Washrooms will be closed to the public until further notice.
  • These measures are temporary and we will reassess as time goes on. Please keep a lookout for any further updates from our team. Together, we can all help in stopping the spread of COVID-19. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call us at (613) 542-7337.

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    Thank you for your patience and understanding and we look forward to seeing you and your furry family members again!

    - Your dedicated team at Kingston Veterinary Clinic