Include Your Pets in New Year Resolutions

Dr. Ava Frick, DVM, CAC

The top New Year resolutions for people include losing weight and exercising more. Statistic and surveys have shown that people who exercise with their pets will stick to a program more successfully than if they are doing it for themselves alone.

Obesity is the most commonly recognized nutritional problem in dogs. Obesity is defined as a body weight that is greater than 20% above optimal body weight. It is predominantly caused by over-consumption of calories, under-expenditure of energy, and improper nutrient balance (more carbohydrates in relation to the protein). There is a common belief that protein restriction is helpful in older animals, yet no scientific evidence shows that reduced dietary protein is beneficial for the healthy older dog or cat. In fact, reduced protein diets for older pets may have adverse effects by contributing to the muscle loss that occurs with aging.

Risk factors for gaining excessive weight include neutering, mid to older age, inactivity, indoor lifestyle, and genetic predisposition. Obese animals, like people, usually show signs of concurrent disease: lameness, increased drinking and urinating, increased respiratory effort or panting, sleeping more, poor skin and coat, and heart stress with circulatory malfunction.

For a dog that already has difficulty getting around, creating an exercise program can be challenging. The last thing we want is to increase pain. A well planned weight-loss program includes a patient-specific nutritional therapy of reducing typical cereals or grains like wheat, corn, gluten, and rice, balancing protein, fat, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and water. Address needs of the endocrine system to create optimal metabolism helps the body adapt and change.

Initiate a home exercise routine, which for some may be gentle massage, range of motion, frequent but very short walks, and exercises using a ball. Balls are great for older pets and ones that have difficulty holding up their weight or tend to lie down rather than stand. It is a support that allows them some independence as they regain function.

For those with medical considerations or where the weather interferes with exercise, use a facility with physical rehabilitation technology, such as the underwater treadmill. Water walking allows for less weight and body mass on the legs, more flexion of the joints, buoyancy, better body balance, and an almost massage-like effect on the legs. At higher levels it can be a cardiovascular exercise that improves conditioning, muscle tone, and overall well-being.

To successfully manage a weight reduction plan for your dog or cat, you should:

  • Feed a balanced grain-free diet. (For insightful information from a veterinarian regarding the effects of diet read www.dogtorj.com.)
  • Feed alone, away from other animals to reduce the incentive to eat fast. You may choose to put the food in a muffin pan to further slow him/her down.
  • Feed only the snacks or treats outlined in the balanced program. Best to choose from whole food items like dehydrated meat and vegetables.
  • Avoid eating in front of your dog when he/she will not be getting anything.
  • Exercise your dog or cat as prescribed. Keep a journal of distance and/or time spent.
  • Weigh in every two weeks and record body weight.
  • Have a weight-loss reassessment done starting monthly then working up to every 3 months as the program successfully progresses. This will include weight, pelvic and thoracic circumference measurements, nutrition adjustments, exercise evaluation, and behavioral improvements.

A better lifestyle and exercise is the best chance for a longer life. Substantial research progress is deepening our understanding of obesity and the aging process, leading veterinarians and pet owners toward better guidelines including nutritional interventions and lifestyle decision that will promote healthy longevity. Considering the fact that the obesity rates of pets has climbed right along with their human counterpart seems the thing to do is get everybody in the house eating better (healthier) and exercising more.

Ava Frick, DVM, FAIS
Veterinarian Certified in Animal Chiropractic
Fellow of the American Institute of Stress