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Q: I have a 4 year old female Labrador retriever who weighs 85 lbs.  My veterinarian told me she is overweight and needs to lose over 10 lbs.  What suggestions do you have to help her lose weight?

A: Your Labrador is not alone. More of our pets are becoming overweight or obese.  A recent veterinary survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian.  Unfortunately, pet owners may not be aware that their pet is overweight nor may they realize the potential health consequences. Pet obesity is associated with several serious and debilitating health conditions including osteoarthritis and diabetes mellitus. It has been shown that overweight dogs have a decreased life span when compared to dogs who maintain a lean body condition.  Reducing weight in overweight arthritic dogs improves mobility. It’s never too late to help your pet achieve a healthy weight.

You have a very good veterinarian who identified this important health condition.  For readers who are unsure if their pet is at an optimal weight, I would encourage you to ask your veterinarian. Your pet should have a waist that can either be seen or felt when viewed from above and you should be able feel her ribs with just a slight fat covering. Find out what your pet weighed last year to see if she has gained weight.  One tip that will help with your dog’s weight loss plan is to determine how many calories she is currently eating.  If you are not already doing so, measure the amount of pet food you are feeding.  You can contact the manufacturer to find out how many calories are in a cup or can of her food.  Treats, chews, and table foods are often a major source of extra calories. All foods have calories and need to be counted in a weight loss plan.  Pet food manufacturers can tell you how many calories are in the treats and rawhide chews that you might be feeding.  The amount of calories in table foods can either be found on the package or researched on-line. As a general guideline, treats, chews, and table foods should not comprise more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calorie intake.  Therefore feeding lower calorie treats such as green beans rather than higher calorie fatty meats or rawhides may help.  Also, give more “non-food” rewards such as a scratch on the head or a quick game of fetch so that the majority of your interactions are not food focused.  Ask your veterinarian to recommend a complete and balanced food that is formulated for weight loss. These diets are specially formulated to deliver all the nutrition your pet needs while consuming fewer calories. Many also have certain nutrients that can help you pet feel full while losing weight.  It’s very important that cats do not lose weight too quickly or they may develop a very serious condition called hepatic lipidosis, so ask your veterinarian for guidance regarding feeding amounts.  The key to successful weight loss is monitoring.  Weigh your pet every 2-4 weeks to make sure she is losing at an appropriate rate.  The amount of calories your individual pet needs to lose weight may be very different from another pet, so the feeding amount will vary from pet to pet.  Your veterinarian can help you develop an appropriate plan for your pet.

Low impact exercise such as walking or swimming can be a great way to burn calories, but ask your veterinarian if you pet has any conditions that might restrict the amount or type of exercise.  Cats may enjoy playing with you by chasing a laser pointer or using an interactive feeding toy so that they can “hunt” for their food.

Helping your pet achieve a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do for her overall health.  As with diet plans in people, it takes some commitment and determination, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Work with your veterinarian to tailor a plan that will be successful for your pet.

Laura Eirmann, DVM, Diplomate ACVN (Nutrition)

Dr. Eirmann graduated from Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed an internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She then practiced at Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital where she focused on preventative medicine and routine healthcare. She joined the general medicine staff at Oradell Animal Hospital in 1998 and developed a strong interest in veterinary nutrition. She completed a residency in clinical nutrition under the supervision of veterinary nutritionists at University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, and Angell Memorial Animal Hospital and became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. She is responsible for overseeing the nutritional support of hospitalized patients at Oradell, consults with Oradell clinicians regarding the nutritional needs of their patients, and provides out patient consultation appointments for clients seeking dietary recommendatons for their healthy or ill pets. Dr. Eirmann also works for Nestle Purina in addition to her part-time clinical appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital. Dinallo GK, Poplarski JA, Van Deventer GM, Eirmann LA, Wakshlag JJ. A Survey of feeding, activity, supplement use and energy consumption in North American agility dogs. J Nutr Sci 2017 6 e45. Eirmann L. Nutritional Assessment. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2016 :46(5) :855-867. Whitehead K, Cortes Y, Eirmann L. Gastrointestinal dysmotility disorders in critically ill dogs and cats. J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2016 26(2) :234-253. Eirmann L. Esophagostomy feeding tubes in dogs and cats. In Chan, DL., editor : Nutritional Management of Hospitalized Small Animals. 2015. West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Eirmann LA. Diet- or patient-induced adverse reaction to food. In Cote, E., editor: Clinical Veterinary Advisor Dogs & Cats, 3rd ed. 2015. St. Louis, Elsevier. Eirmann LA. Food allergy, gastrointestinal. In Cote, E., editor: Clinical Veterinary Advisor Dogs & Cats, 3rd ed. 2015. St. Louis, Elsevier. Eirmann LA, Michel KE: Enteral nutrition. In Silverstein DC, Hopper, K., editors: Small Animal Critical Care Medicine, 2nd ed. 2014. St. Louis, Elsevier. Michel KE, Eirmann LA: Parenteral nutrition. In Silverstein DC, Hopper, K., editors: Small Animal Critical Care Medicine, 2nd ed. 2014. St. Louis, Elsevier. Peterson ME, Eirmann L. Dietary Management of Feline Endocrine Disease. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2014 :44(4) :775-788. Laflamme DP, Izquierdo O, Eirmann L, Binder S. Myths and Misperceptions about Ingredients Used in Commercial Pet Foods. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2014 :44(4) :689-698. Eirmann L, Cowell C, Thompson L. Pet food safety : The roles of government, manufacturers, and veterinarians. Compend Contin Educ Vet 2012 ; 34(1) : E1-3. Eirmann LA, Freeman, LM, Laflamme DP, Michel KE, Satyaraj E. Comparison of adipokine concentrations and markers of inflammation in obese versus lean dogs. Int J Appl Res Vet Med 2009 ;7(4):196-205. Eirmann LA, Michel KE: Enteral nutrition. In Silverstein DC, Hopper, K., editors: Small Animal Critical Care Medicine. 2008. St. Louis, Elsevier. Michel KE, Eirmann LA: Parenteral nutrition. In Silverstein DC, Hopper, K., editors: Small Animal Critical Care Medicine, 2008. St. Louis, Elsevier.
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