The Human-Animal Bond Blog Series: Healthy Lifestyle & Weight Loss

How to keep your pet at a healthy weight

Is your yorkie a little porky?

Does your lab have too much flab?

Is your feline not so streamline?


In the land of great opportunity and abundance we have managed to change what is considered the “normal” size and shape of our pets. Obesity is a real problem in our pets and once your beloved has exceeded their normal weight it becomes very difficult to get back to where they’re supposed to be.

That’s where your veterinarian comes in! With advice from your friendly neighborhood pet doctor, and some strict commitment on your part, we can get “Fluffy” to look more lean and “Jake” looking like a beef cake.

This problem is not just ours; it’s seen worldwide where 30% of dogs in Japan and Australia and up to 40% of dogs in America are considered overweight. Obesity is not just for the dogs either! Up to 35% of cats are also considered obese in America.

Now don’t get me wrong! It’s not all our faults. There are certainly reasons other than lifestyle that our pooches have become too poochy. Hormonal diseases and genetics also play a role with this issue. But, seeing as how your pet’s lifestyle plays the biggest role, there are definitely things we can do to fight this all too-common disease.

Let’s face it folks! You control what goes in your pet’s dish. Just like us, dogs are going to follow the path of least resistance. Most dogs these days don’t hunt for their food! They rely on you. The aren’t hiding snacks under the dog dish or in the corner of their dog house to “cheat”. They count on you to decide what’s best! And just like you, they are what they eat.

The principles we are going to talk about in this blog are going to hit very close to home. I have seen over the years the reflection of the owner’s lifestyle evident through their pet’s body condition. I have seen plenty of overweight individuals that also have overweight dogs. In fact, I also see too many diabetic owners that also have a diabetic dog. Coincidence? I think not!

Obesity causes problems down-the-line. You’ve probably heard your family veterinarian tell you this or even warn you when they notice that “Jake’s” begun to RAKE up the weight over the years. Kidney disease, cardiac disease, joint disease, liver disease and pancreatic disease all can result from carrying too much weight. By far the two biggest morbidities, however, are going to be arthritis and diabetes. All of these conditions not only affect your pet’s quality of life but also their longevity!

The solution?

Care to guess?

I’ll give you a hint…there are TWO ways to fight this disease and I guarantee everyone out there has tried to modify their own lives with these methods.


It’s all about calorie intake and daily activity! That’s right! The same two factors that your own doctor barks at you about also apply to man’s best friend. It’s that easy and that difficult at the same time.

Our goal is to lose 20%, on average, of our pet’s weight over 6 months time. How much food do we cut out? There are plenty of very specific formulas out there that are beyond the scope of this blog that can accurately calculate how much caloric intake your pet should take in. As a general rule though, most obese pets are 20% above their ideal weight. So to figure out the new daily amount to feed our pet, we take what’s on the bag of dog food and decrease it by 20% overall per day. Hate percentages? Me too! This is why I developed the “rule of 20s”; most pets are 20% overweight, we want to lose 20% of the weight over 6 months, and we begin by cutting the recommended daily intake by 20%. That’s my “rule of 20s”!

Here’s an example…

You dog weighs in at 150 lb. We will assume an ideal weight of 120 lbs by taking their weight today, multiplying it my 20% and subtracting that amount from today’s weight. That means we are looking for a 30 lb weight loss regimen that results in losing about 5 lbs in each month. As such this will take us about 6 months before we reach our ideal weight. This is a slow process in dogs as it is in people! There’s no magic way about it.

Now look at your bag of dry dog food. See what it recommends that a dog weighing 120 lbs should be fed. We will take that number, multiply it by 30%, subtract that number from their recommendation and wah-lah! We have our new daily total feeding intake.

But here is something most people and maybe even veterinarians forget about. It’s not just the amount of food you’re putting in but in what FREQUENCY. Ever hear the expression “keep the fire burning”? That’s not just true for relationships folks! It’s true in weight-loss programs too. It implies that if we slowly add to a fire as the day goes on, we can keep a nice steady fire going all day. This is in comparison to throwing on a large load of wood in the morning and a large load at night to keep the fire going. Because in between the morning and night, the fire will be small and in danger of going out, while during the times of “feeding the fire” the flames will be huge.

Why that example? Our metabolism works in the same manner. Feeding small meals frequently keeps our metabolism burning all day at a nice steady pace. This results in less insulin spikes, less unnecessary bouts of hunger, and a better response to exercise. So not only are we going to decrease the amount we feed, but, we are also going to distribute that new amount of 3 or 4 meals a day instead of the usual one or two. Make sense?

Now as we already mentioned, daily activity also plays a role. Certainly this is more tempting to do if you live on the coast of San Diego, California where the weather is consistently 75 degrees year-round. But seeing as how we’ve established that obesity can mean life or death for your four-legged family member, it should be a commitment we all stand by!

Make this a routine exercise regimen for the two of you! If you’re looking to lose weight, then do it with a partner! Everyone knows it’s more fun to workout with a friend. And what better friend than our furry pals who never complain! Go on 3 to 5 walks a day, slowly increasing the walks by 5 minutes every week. See how far this takes the two of you! Just remember! Always stay hydrated and if your canine partner decides it’s time to stop, then be sure to listen! Safety first kids!

So in the case the example above, the diet plan will be to feed the calculated amount every meal divided over a total of 4 meals a day over the next 6 months with weekly weigh-ins to try and reach our goal. During that time period we will go on 4 walks a day, each walk lasting 5 minutes the first week and being increased by 5 minutes thereafter until we hit 30 minutes a walk. You then make an appointment with your veterinarian after 6 months so doc can assess the progress you and “Lucky” made and come up modifications or a maintenance plan!

You’re going to find that “Sparky” has more spark and “Cutesy” is getting cuter! With dedication and hard work, you can both lead a healthier lifestyle, minimizing organ problems and keeping our beloved companion around for much, much longer!



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