As we posted last week, dogs with a Body Condition Score or BCS of 8 or greater are considered clinically obese. Most veterinarians feel that the obese dogs are at much greater risk of fat related diseases and experience a greater severity of symptoms with those diseases than overweight dogs.
It is now known that fat is the largest hormone producing organ of both the human and dog body. Over 100 fat produced hormones have been identified in humans and over 30 in dogs. All of these hormones promote inflammation. Inflammation is the same type of body response we experience with infection from viruses, fungi and bacteria. The immune system is attacking normal body tissues instead of invaders. This is the equivalent of having a fever 24/7/365! It is this inflammatory response that is believed to cause diabetes, cancer, arthritis, joint ligament ruptures, kidney, respiratory and gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases. Fortunately, weight loss has an immediate effect in reducing these hormones and decreasing disease risk and symptoms.
Obese Dogs Need a Diet
Unlike the overweight dog, simple lifestyle changes with the obese dog are seldom successful. Weight loss is much slower with the lifestyle changes suggested last post when applied to the obese dog. It can take a year or more for these dogs to reach their ideal BCS. Owners lose patience and abandon such programs before their dogs reach their target.
A more suitable approach for the obese dog is a more aggressive weight loss program. Diet programs keep the owners engaged and have a greater impact on positive health benefits of reduced fat. These programs require veterinary supervision and constant monitoring. As with the overweight dog, blood work is required before any weight loss program. This will screen for hormonal diseases that cause weight gain (see previous blog) and ensure the kidneys and liver can perform their necessary functions during weight loss.
Details of Dog Diet Programs
Successful weight loss requires the obese dog to receive 80% fewer calories than that needed for its ideal weight. This ensures that weight loss is at a safe 1-2% of body weight loss per week. In some cases greater calorie restriction is needed but seldom exceeds 60% of ideal weight daily calories. Having monitored such programs over the years, it is rewarding to hear clients report an immediate increase in their dog’s energy and personality improvement within weeks of initiation of the diet.
As with humans, dogs experience plateaus where weight loss slows or stops due to metabolic changes in the body. That is why veterinary supervision and calorie modification is necessary during weight loss programs. Initially, “weigh-ins” are necessary twice monthly and then decrease to monthly until graduation at ideal BCS and weight. Monitoring at 3-month intervals with feeding changes may be necessary after graduation from weight loss programs.
What Do You Feed the Dieting Dog?
Dogs on the programs described above cannot be fed over-the-counter weight loss diets. Here is why.
All dog food is formulated such that the daily requirements of all 42 nutrients are met when feeding the normal number of calories. Dieting dogs are fed fewer calories but still need the nutrients in amounts for their ideal weight. That means that “diet food” must contain more than the regular amount of all 42 nutrients. Studies show that over-the-counter weight loss foods are deficient in fortification. This could have serious consequences for dogs fed these diets for an extended period of time.
Dieting dogs also need more protein than that found in over-the-counter weight loss diets. Metabolic changes that occur during dieting promote muscle loss. Extra dietary protein can decrease or sometimes prevent this muscle loss.
The only satisfactory foods for dieting dogs are commercial products available only from veterinarians or nutritionally fortified homemade dog food. These diets are formulated to deliver the proper amounts of nutrients with fewer calories. Homemade recipes for dieting dogs should be obtained from veterinary sources that confirm the fortification amounts of all 42 nutrients. They should also indicate protein fortification appropriate for the dieting dog.
~Dr Ken Tudor
The Dog Dietitian