Pet Weight Loss: Help Portly Pets Overcome Obesity

Pet Corner

| September/October 2003

If you’ve been reading the papers over the past year or so, you know that we’re becoming a nation of fat people. Obesity is linked to many human conditions including diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Sadly, veterinarians are also observing the same trend in their patients: increasing numbers of overweight pets — which ultimately translates to more fat-related diseases. Obesity in both people and pets has become such a huge problem that health practitioners worry it may soon become the foremost disease condition of our time.

Animal obesity is also one of the most frustrating diseases for veterinarians to treat. Obesity is insidious in its onset, and it tends to be a stone-rolling-downhill disease; once an animal puts on some extra weight, it’s harder to get him to exercise, so he puts on more weight and so on. In addition, preventing obesity can almost seem to be “anti-love” therapy. When our pet whines or cries for more food, we feel we should be nice and feed her, no matter how much she weighs. (Tough love is my answer to this. We truly show our love by keeping our pets fit and trim.) Finally, when we’re dealing with obesity, there’s almost too much information out there, making it nearly impossible to decide which of the hundreds of weight-reduction programs is the best.

Putting together a workable weight-reduction program for your pet can be a challenge, but the benefits far outweigh the efforts. I developed my general protocol by taking the best of the commonalities from dozens of available programs. However, when I’m treating obesity, I always realize this general program may need some fine-tuning to fit the individual. Finally, I consider herbs an integral part of any weight-loss program — not necessarily as “pound peelers,” but rather as mind/body enhancers, medicines that make our pets feel better so they have the vitality to increase their metabolic rates.

A Familiar Theme: Diet and Exercise

The cornerstones of any weight-loss program are exercise and a proper diet. Excess calories consumed or too few calories expended results in added body fat. It’s a simple equation.

In addition to consuming calories, exercise is vital because it builds muscle mass. Muscles burn calories, but more importantly, a strong sheath of hip muscles protects hip joints that may be prone to dysplasia, and exercise has been shown to help prevent the onset of arthritis and to slow its progress once started. The circle comes around: Help prevent arthritis and hip dysplasia, and we give our pets more years to exercise without pain, further aiding the prevention of arthritis and hip dysplasia, and so on.

For overweight critters (two- or four-legged) start out with little chunks of exercise — perhaps a stroll around the block once or twice a day. Then gradually, perhaps over several months if your pet is really out of shape, increase the time spent walking to a total of 20 to 30 minutes daily, five or six times a week.

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