You come in for Winston’s yearly visit to the vet for his physical exam, vaccines and a heartworm check. The vet is checking him over, and comments that for once his ears look great, no sign of infection; mild tarter starting on his teeth but overall not too bad. And then she mentions Winston gained 10 pounds since last year—1/3 of his body weight is excess! Doc then proceeds to explain all the reasons why Winston needs to lose weight; everything from diabetes to arthritis to a longer lifespan.
What your vet just doesn’t understand is how hectic your life is at home. You have a 3-year-old, a 9-month-old and a husband (wife) who loves to give treats. On top of that, you also have another dog and cat in the house who are more of the grazing types. Winston, on the other hand, is the “wolf down a bowl of kibble in 1.2 seconds” type—his bowl AND his brother’s, doesn’t matter to Winston. Keeping track of who fed the pets; keeping Winston out of everyone else’s dish and off of your 3-year-old child’s plate; stopping the half slice of pizza being passed to a waiting Winston; not to mention taking the dogs for a walk. Calgon, take me away!
Does this sound all too familiar? Please, don’t be offended by or angry at your veterinary staff. I’ve been in your shoes– well, minus the 3-year-old and 9-month-old! I’m a veterinary technician, and I once had a fat dog. My husband and I took in a sweet, not-so-little, middle age black Labrador a few years ago now. I remember bringing her home and thinking to myself, “this girl is going on a diet!” I’m a veterinary professional for heaven’s sake, I need to practice what I preach!
We portioned her meals and cut out treats. Time for tough love! No excuses. I had a Labrador that weighed 79 pounds!
Fast forward just 2.5 months; my sweet, LITTLE black Labrador is at a healthy 46 pounds. She lost 33 pounds—she was carrying around a 2nd dog!
How did we do it? Plain old tough love. The only tools I used were a well-balanced diet from a reputable source and a measuring cup. And maybe a little bit of patience. I dramatically cut back on the amount of kibble. For the 2.5 months she was on calorie restriction, she received ½ cup (measured!) of kibble twice daily. (Currently, she is maintaining her weight on 1 ¼ cup of kibble twice daily; I wasn’t kidding about dramatic!) No matter how much it feels like you are starving your dog, you’re not. If your dog is telling you that you are, here are some options:
Bowl additions = 1 can of green beans
Bowl additions = 1-2c water (floating kibble, so your dog has to “bob for apples”)
Bowl additions = 1 cup of sliced carrots
I also took a dramatic step and did not allowed any treats of any sort. No Milkbones, no Beggin’ strips, no pizza, no rawhides, no hotdogs, no cheese cubes, no Snickers bars. This for most people is probably a deal breaker\! Let’s face it, we love to reward our pets for good behaver and for just being cute! If this is a “must” for you and your family then here are some options:
Treats = ice cubes
Treats = fresh fruit or vegetable
(apple slice, baby carrot, green bean, banana slice, broccoli)
Treats = Cheerios (1 Cheerio = 1 treat, NOT a “handful of Cheerios” = 1 treat!)
Dogs love the idea of the treat/reward coming from you; they don’t care how big it is.
We also made some rules within the household. I fed her. My husband, with a liberal scoop mentality, was not allowed near her bowl! He is the type who would put the ½ cup in the dish but then feel bad for her after she finished her kibble in 1.2 seconds and want to give her some more. In your household likewise, everyone (that can walk upright), needs to be on the same page. One person in charge, feeds twice a day and actually sticks to the measured amount.
I had to face the cold, hard fact; I had a Labrador! They are literally always hungry. This is where you need to stick to your guns. If you give in to those beautiful brown eyes staring up at you, you’ll never get anywhere. Trust me, s/he will thank you later!
I took the difficult step of putting my dog in the laundry room when we sat down for dinner. Those eyes staring up and the chin on my lap was just too much! When your family sits down to dinner, have the dogs put up in another room—door closed, baby gate up, or, on a warm evening, in the fenced back yard. The temptation won’t be there, and the fallout from the toddler’s tray won’t be available.
I didn’t have another dog and dog dish to worry about, but, boy oh boy, was the cat’s dish a prime target! I quickly re-arranged his feeding station out of mouth’s reach of the Labrador. If you have a multi-pet household, brainstorm options for separate dishes and separate feeding areas, so the Hoover-feeder doesn’t suck up someone else’s meal every day.
I also knew, with my work schedule, I was always coming home wiped out. Taking the dog for a walk was the last thing I wanted to do after a long day at work – and everyone still needed dinner prepared! Exercise was something I didn’t even do for myself let alone for the dog! In the ideal world, exercise works great along with calorie restriction. If it’s just not possible, then focus on the calorie restriction. That’s the easy part. Plus look at all the money you’ll save by simply feeding less!
And so, we waited. If you are diligent, you should start to notice a difference over the next couple weeks. One of the first things I noticed when my dog started her weight loss journey, was her energy level increased. I could tell she felt better! In fact, due to her obesity she had been experiencing shoulder pain that required her to be on pain medications (those cost a lot month after month). As she shed the weight, her shoulder became more comfortable and her energetic side came shining through. She went from chronic pain medications for daily life, to none! Simply making her an appropriate body weight took her off pain medication. More money saved and life regained!
My little black lab will be turning 10 years old this year and remains happy to run with the ATV; I only give her joint supplements and fish oil. I shudder to think what her quality of life would have been like if she still carried 33 extra pounds. And actually, I wonder too if her shoulder would have been injured in the first place if she had been an appropriate weight her entire life.
Don’t shoot the messenger. And don’t give up. It’s not impossible even with your hectic life style. I’ve been in your shoes. As a veterinary professional, I hope you realize how much we all want to help your dog live the life s/he deserves. Think about the quality of life you can give your dog, just by feeding less food. You can add years to her life and life to her years!
Karley Brace, CVT
Direct Veterinary Surgery, LLC