Obesity and Weight Loss Programs

David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A.

Diet dog and cat foods are rarely successful. In fact, they MAKE your companion animal want to eat more because they have such poor nutrition that their bodies feel starved for good food.

The key to a good weight loss program is to increase the quality of the diet, feed higher amounts of meats (increase the proteins), lower carbohydrates, and simply feed less at each meal. Diet dog, cat, and bird foods do just the opposite: they lower the quality of the diet and the animal slowly deteriorates because of the poorer nutrition.

These diet foods all are designed to decrease calories while increasing indigestible material. One example of a product that is used to add bulk but no calories is peanut hulls. The flawed concept is to make the animal feel fuller after a meal, but not have so many calories per cup of food.

The reason this is flawed is that all animals are driven to eat, not by a feeling of emptiness in the stomach, but by a desire to meet their caloric needs. They are driven to eat by a sense of a lack of calories, not a sense of less food in their stomach. Those of us who have dieted know that the first couple weeks are usually the easiest time to eat less. Then we start having more trouble staying on the diet. Why? The body begins to feel the lack of calories and starts urging us to eat more.

This is also true of animals, they start becoming more persistent in asking us for more food as they start losing weight. The result is that we often start giving them treats between meals, feeding more in the food bowel. Worst of all is the idea that we can feed our obese animals free choice and expect them to lose weight by just moving to a diet dog or cat food. The result of all of this? Our companions just eat more food that is of a poorer quality, leading to malnutrition and disease.

Study after study has shown that diet dog and cat foods never are successful. Animals just don't lose weight on them. The one exception: the caretaker that is willing to limit how much food they feed their dogs and cats.

The basic tenant in a healthy diet plan for people is that we should all eat healthy, freshly prepared foods, adding variety and all the valuable nutrients we need to stay healthy.... but that we should learn to simply eat less. The same is true of animals. The best "diet" plan is simply feeding an excellent diet in the correct portions.

Diet dog foods do just the opposite of this: they provide a poorer quality of nutrition. In our experience, dogs develop unthrifty, dull, and dry looking coats and eventually develop diseases while on diet dog foods. And, they never lose any weight!

Ultimately, the diet dog foods are aimed at the animal caretaker's desire to make their companion happy, and are not made to benefit the animal. We all want to make our companions as happy as possible. We all gain great satisfaction by knowing they are content. One way is to feed a bowl of food that looks like a lot of food. We feel better knowing that our animals get this nice big looking meal once or twice daily.

As we have seen, this is actually the opposite from what we want to do: we want to feed a higher quality diet, and feed much less in the bowl. Your companion animal will feel better for this. They will be healthier and they will feel MORE satisfied with the meal because of the high quality of the food they are eating. And they will feel years younger when they lose the excess weight.

So, here are our diet plans in brief:

  1. Feed a high protein diet; increase the meats and use fresh meats, not meat from a can
  2. Lower the carbohydrates in the diet, this will also help prevent diabetes and intestinal disease
  3. Feed moderate amounts of vegetables
  4. Follow our guidelines for feeding dogs, birds and cats, just feed less of all that we recommend (again, increase the proteins and decrease the carbohydrates and fats); go to these pages:
    1. Feeding Your Bird, click here
    2. Feeding Your Dog, click here
    3. Feeding Your Cat, click here
  5. Stop feeding table scraps, treats and tidbits between meals
  6. Weigh your companion every two weeks to see if weight is being lost
  7. If there has been no weight loss, reduce the amount you are feeding by 25%, and check again in another two weeks
  8. You don't need for them to lose a lot of weight each week, just a slow steady diet will get them back to where they need to be in 6-12 months
  9. Feed a good quality multi-nutritional supplement. See our suggestions listed under our Product Guide, click here, and go to the listing for Multiple Vitamins
  10. EXERCISE: we can't over estimate the need for exercise to help the weight loss program. Start walking your dog for 15 minutes daily and move to 1 hour daily. Cats are much harder to exercise, of course, but playing with them daily will help tremendously.