Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Plump Pets Need Your Help to Lose Weight


Pet Column for the week of February 14, 2000


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

My good friends Matt and Shelly have a fat dog. Bosco went from an ideal 60 pounds to a
chunky 80 in only a few months.

Forgetting what they teach us in veterinary school�to first get owners to recognize that
their "baby" is overweight, then explain the negative health consequences of obesity, then
tell them how to slim their pet down�I blurted out my observations. It made Matt
defensive.

"He's not so big, is he? He doesn't even eat that much. Why, he doesn't even finish what I
feed him," said Matt.

Shelly, however, who is a dietitian, admitted that Bosco had gained a bit of weight.

Veterinarians calculate a pet�s body score on a scale of 1 (very thin) to 5 (obese). To score
your pet, veterinarians feel for your pet's ribs, look from the side for the desired abdominal
tuck, and look from above to see if your pet has a waist. If your pet scores higher than a 3,
your veterinarian may ask questions about what you feed, how much, how often, and
whether your pet has access to other food and may advise you about the health risks
common to more generously proportioned pets.

According to Dr. Doug Yanik, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, "The number one problems associated with obese pets,
especially if they've been overfed in the first year, are orthopedic." Well-executed trials
have shown that dogs fed free-choice versus restricted diets have a higher incidence of hip
dysplasia, osteochondrial decicans, anterior cruciate ligament ruptures, and other
debilitating diseases.

Besides having orthopedic problems, dumpy dogs and corpulent cats may have decreased
pulmonary and respiratory capacity, may not heal as well, may face greater risks from
surgery, and may have increased risk of skin disease, cancer, and metabolic disorders such
as diabetes or Cushings disease.

Although a few pet weight problems are due to hormonal imbalances, most pets are fat
because their owners can't resist the upward glance of longing when Fido wants a �tater
chip. "Making your overweight pet lose weight goes beyond aesthetics. Pets are healthier if
they are thinner," explains Dr. Yanik.

I asked Dr. Yanik what advice he would give Matt and Shelly to help Bosco reduce. Many
of his tips may sound familiar.

1.Decrease calories. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much your pet
should eat to lose weight. Dr. Yanik suggests feeding 80 percent of what it takes to
maintain your pet's weight.
2.Exercise, exercise, exercise. It's good for you too!
3.Eliminate free choice diets. Feed a definite amount of food.
4.No snacks. No people food.
5.Feed more times a day but smaller volumes of food. Dogs can burn calories in the
act of digestion.

Your veterinarian can help you decide what type of diet to feed your obese pet. Traditional
weight-loss diet plans restrict fat intake, increase complex carbohydrates and fiber, and
maintain the optimal amount of protein. "It's the classic weight watcher's plan," says Dr.
Yanik.

The high-protein diets popular with people have reached the pet industry too. "Much
research is being done on a nutrient found in skeletal muscle and heart muscle that allows
long-chain fatty acids to be burned up more efficiently. Research shows that pets eating
diets higher in L-carnitine lose more fat and maintain more muscle weight than do pets on
typical diets. Diets with L-carnitine are available by prescription.

It is estimated that 25 percent of pets are obese. Statistics show that 50% of pet owners
who put their pets on diets are successful. "This success rate increases when owners
understand that their pet has a weight problem and that the excess weight is unhealthy,"
adds Dr. Yanik.

If you have a too-plump pet, make the commitment to help him trim. Matt and Shelly have
decided that it�s time for Bosco to drop a few. In fact, my dear friends have decided to join
Bosco in an exercise regimen, since they want to look fit and healthy in their June wedding.

Maybe the new improved Bosco can be the ring bearer.