Hi, We're Pete and Repeat. We know there’s already plenty of pet weight-loss advice on the Internet. Some of it is good. But we've noticed that they all basically nod their heads in agreement that there is a problem - but are light on practical, workable solutions. So Doc Hines thought it might be better if Pete and I just explained the problem to you ourselves with a little help from him - after all, who knows what’s going on better than us, your dog and cat.
If your pet is on medications, go here first
Some feel that obesity is now the #1 pet health issue in high-income western-oriented countries. Study estimates vary, but close to half of us cats and dogs probably carry around too much weight. It varies depending on the area, urban more than rural, high income over lower, how the particular pet census population was selected, family structure and how overweight was defined. (ref1, ref2)
Most veterinarians would consider a cat like Repeat who is greater than 20% over his ideal weight as being fat (obese). Repeat is indignant about that, he says he "carries his weight well". Pete really does not dwell on the weight issue – he’s an easy-going friendly mutt – a Lab X Basset cross. Pat his head and he's in Heaven.
Just about everyone who discusses pet obesity says somewhere that dogs and cats are fat because the number of calories they take in eating is more than the number of calories they burn (expend). Can’t argue with that. Just about everyone considers fat pets to be at a greater risk of health issues down the road – can’t argue with that either.
Folks have also found things that fat pets tend to have in common: They are generally fixed (neutered). They tend to be mature or older. They are highly pampered by their owners. Their owners consider them family members or best buddies. They eat an energy-rich (fattening) diet and get little exercise. They tend to be the pets of owners with the most intimate bonds to their pets - those who see them as their furry children (they're the "pet parents" - like Doc and Maxx ). Most importantly their owners tend to be unaware of their pet’s chubbiness or minimize its importance.
(ref1, ref2, ref3, ref4, ref5, ref6)
If you have the time browse over these many studies, you will see that their conclusion on the risk factors are similar - although not always identical. Many also give mathematical formulas to calculate the correct food intake for your pets. Those formulas are scientifically correct – but next to worthless for owners like you or Doc dealing with a loved pet. You see, the underlying problems are in your human emotions – not the pet – certainly not the math. You cannot write a formula that defines or quantifies that love because it exists in a different dimension.
Most owners would have a hard time living with an ex-tomcat like me if I was still sexually intact. I have this thing about urine spraying. Just comes natural to me – a territorial/sexual thing I inherited I suppose. And unspayed girl cats can be quite a pain with their repeating heat cycles. Pete’s personality wouldn’t change much if he was neutered or not. His owners don’t let him run loose. He’s not aggressive and definitely not involved in that pet overpopulation thing. We both know that girl dogs can be messy twice a year; but whatever the reasons, most of us end up getting “fixed”.
When you neuter us, it causes significant changes in our metabolism. Reproduction was only one of the many jobs of the hormones that we lost. They were intricately involved in many of our basic processes and, once gone, the amount of food we could eat and stay lean became considerably less (-20-30%). True, if you feed us less we won’t get fat. But you already know that that is easier said than done. (ref1, ref2, ref3, rptref4) (Because of that, feeding amounts suggested on the food can or sack can be too high.)
As much as it pains Pete, Repeat and Doc to bring this up, our dog and cat-breeding industry is highly susceptible to fads, trends-of-the-moment, ill-conceived notions and ignorance of the health consequences of body-trait genetics. Far to few of them bother to consider if selecting for a particular body shape, conformation, skin, hair coat, etc. might have negative health consequences down the road. Those breeders live for their moment of glory; but we pets and our veterinarians have to deal with the consequences for the rest of our lives.
International dog shows stand out in setting these trends. Doc is going to use Labrador retrievers as an example because Pete is half Lab and Doc’s dog Maxx is a Lab. But he could have used any number of other breeds.
Look at the two Labrador Retrievers just above. Click on them to make them bigger. The dog on the left is Light Brigade, the 1968 top 4 year old sporting dog champion at the Detroit Kennel Club show. The dog on the right is the Best of Opposite Sex Champion at the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Madison Square Garden, NY. Other than that one being yellow and one black, do you see any differences between them?
When the progeny of dogs no longer look like they once did, it is because their genes have been altered. Through the 1960s, Labrador retrievers were a lean, long-legged, considerably smaller-framed dog. Unfortunately, over the years it was the “larger-than-life” "unique" dogs that caught the judges eye and the public’s fancy. Now these unfortunate stubby legged, barrel-chested, arthritis-prone, portly dogs are far too numerous. Sure, you can still purchase excellent Labradors; but you have to go by what you see, not by long pedigrees and bloodline awards. Many other breeds share these same, unfortunate trends.
The genetics of cats like Repeat is considerably less altered because most are the result of accidental matings. When that is not the case, the same warnings apply.
There is a lot of money to be made in providing food for dogs and cats. Companies have spent many dollars and much time analyzing pet owner motivation and preference. They learned early on that there is a hard limit to what you will spend on a Mars SNICKERS® or a Nestlé 100 GRAND® . But Mars and Nestlé know that there is almost no limit to what you will spend on their Petfood lines (Eukanuba, Pedigree, Royal Canin, etc.) or a Nestlé’s competitive line (Purina, Beneful, Alpo, etc.).
Its accepted among most veterinary nutritionists that high carbohydrate content (primarily grains and vegetable starches) in these diets contribute to the pet obesity problem. You won’t find that in most of the (refs) in this article. One might consider that the reason for that might include the fact that the Industry underwrites most of those studies. (ref1, ref2)
How many companies do you know of that encourage you to use less of their product ? Would they be in business long ? There is always picture a lean pet and a lean owner on the label - no guilt trips here. When it comes to organization within these Megapetfood giants, the marketing department always trumps the nutritionists in the organization. Pet food companies never show commercials of owners measuring out the food – they just pour it in the bowl. Doc has worked as a veterinarian around the world. (ref) Its been his experience that when these companies arrive on the shores of a particular nation, its not long before the pets there become fat (The companies don't come until incomes there have risen enough to make it worth their while. So its true that other factors come into play).
Doc has been a veterinarian for a very long time. Over the years, he noticed that owner attitudes toward their pets were undergoing great changes. Changing lifestyles and the realities of now the 21st Century had changed the relationships between people and their pets in remarkable ways. What were once “domestic pets” are now “family members”. What were once animals are now “friends”. A dramatic “sea change” had occurred. When he contemplates why this might be, he attributes a lot to the transformational art of Walt Disney - the man who gave the gift of empathy and voice to animals.
Doc believes that when you make decisions with your heart rather than your head, those decisions are likely to be different. The decisions pet owners make for us cats and dogs are now “interpersonal” decisions operating under same rules of love, affection, nurturing, bonding and intimacy. Most of the decisions they make for us pets are now based on how they might express to us their love. In many cases, that centers around food indulgence. Psychologists call it the affectional component in family decision-making. (ref) The studies in us pets confirming that best were done in Munich, Germany. (ref1,ref2) ; but others in North America have confirmed it as well. (rptref1, ref2, ref3) How we influence the humans and animal in our family is extremely complex. Many of the cues humans give to us pets are non-verbal and poorly understood (=network phenomena). (ref) Our owners are probably not even aware that they give them; but us cats and dogs are exceptionally good at reading them.
Weight tends to creep up on pets as they reach middle age for the same reasons it creeps up on their owners. But usually poor eating habits of dogs and cats are established early in life. It’s just that as their body’s metabolic needs and physical activity level slow down with time their food intake does not decrease.
Once you accept a small dog or cat as a family member, you rarely think about how small it really is in comparison to you. You are used to serving a plate of food for yourself and your human family members, so it is quite natural to be generous and serve up too much to your pet. Most cats and dogs, being obliging creatures, will try to finish whatever you give them.
Another deception are the pet foods themselves – Particularly the dry ones. They are intensely calorie-rich. Part of that is due to the lower cost of the high-caloric , starchy ingredients. But much of the reason lies in the pelleting process itself. Starch binds the kibble together and intense heat and pressure are required to produce a non-crumbly product. Vets have found that as few as 10 extra kibbles a day to a cat will increase its body weight by 12% in just a year. (rptref) Premium pet foods, in particular, tend to be energy-dense.
Obesity is considerably more common in indoor pets than outdoor pets. Activity and boredom may play a part in that. The increase in pet obesity has paralleled the increase in two-worker families. That means a lot of pet time alone. In-and-out cats used to be the norm. Although that life style exposed them to many hazards, obesity was not one of them. (ref1, ref2, ref3)
Most of us are programmed to regard fat as something inanimate – a blob of homogeneous lard without much use other than as a source of energy. But fat is much more than that. It is composed mainly of fat cells (adipocytes) that have a number of real-time, energy-related functions: It keeps track of energy flow, into and moving through the body and, in response to that flow, it liberates hormones and messengers with a great many functions (like a traffic cop).
Fat produces leptin that normally tells your pet when it is full. It promotes the retention of fat-soluble compounds that pass through the pet’s body. It plays a part in the synthesis and storage of male and female hormones. It modulates inflammation through the body. (ref) Because of that, too much fat is thought to be “pro-inflammatory” – the root of many diseases, through its over-release of adipokines.
Moreover, the fat that accumulates under the skin appears to have different functions and fate that the fat that accumulates in the belly. (ref)
Studies in livestock have shown that neutering the animals alters not only alters (increases) total body fat but the fat distribution as well.
Well, it isn’t.
This is a people problem, not a dog and cat problem.
If you send a fat pet to a kennel or pet resort, it will probably loose weight. But if you yourself do not make the right lifestyle changes, it will oblige you be regaining the weight when it returns home. For most owners of overweight pets these are not minor lifestyle changes, they are major life transforming events.
I often write that nobody knows your pet as well as you do – certainly not your veterinarian. That’s true when it comes to changes that might be a signs of ill health, mood and behavior. But this is not true when it comes to judging if your pet is overweight. Veterinarians are considerably more accurate in noticing that then the pet owner. Owners are not particularly good at noticing when their pets are too thin either. It’s the fog of love – glossing over the imperfections in those we care for. Besides, many owners like the looks of a “well-fed” portly dog and cat like Pete and Repeat.
Besides, most overweight pets are not the extremes. Even a pound or two above normal body weight in a small cat or dog might be considered too fat.
Veterinarians have developed Body Condition Scores to keep track of their client’s mature weights. You don’t have to go to that extreme. Say you own a dog. Look at it from the side. Does its belly slope upward toward its groin or is it a straight line or sagging ? Now look at it from above. Does the pet’s body get narrower just before its hips as it should or does it look like a barrel ? Does its tail sprout normally from its spine or is it “apple-cored” with a bunch of wrinkles ? Can you see its last two ribs when its bending over eating ? Can you feel them? Has your older dog developed lipomas (fat tumors) ? Lean dogs rarely do.
You can judge your cat’s body condition in roughly the same way. Of course, its more difficult in long haired cats.
1) We’ve noticed that a lot of our owners think we are happier after a big meal than a smaller one. Actually, we’ll generally eat whatever amount you give us. You see, most of us pets don’t get the same full (satiated) feeling you do when you have eaten enough. It goes back to how we were wired. There was just no need to feel full because as feline hunters in the wild or village dogs, there were never enough opportunities. We had better eat all that there was because the chance wouldn’t come again soon. It wasn’t like we had our meals catered to us like we do now.
2) We have also noticed that a lot of our owners think that fat=happy. That’s not why we are happy. We’re happy to be part of your life. We might starve to death if you couldn’t feed us – but we would love you just as much to the end. Our love is unconditional. That extra spoonful or treat doesn’t factor into our relationship with you. Try to remember that. You can reward our affection and good behavior in other ways.
3) Some of you think that we can exercise off the extra calories you give us. That is almost never true. Sure, I can burn off extra calories just like you. You could hire a life coach for us (ref) and buy an underwater treadmill (although I personally dislike water). But what are the realistic chances of us doing that ? Are you going to enter Pete in the Iditerod ? Is a cat like me going to run circles in the house all day? Are you going to quit work and jog with us? (Pete says each large milk bone takes him 40 minutes of jogging behind his owner or a 5 miles walking to burn off)? Being a cat, I know it takes me about the same time to burn off the calories in a Yums treat or Greenie because I am much smaller.
4) Some of our owners think we are fat because we have “metabolic issues”. A few of us might (eg hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease). You can have your vet screen us for that (T4, urine cortisol/creatinine) ; but in 9 out of 10 of us that isn’t the reason. Face it - its because you feed us too much high-calorie stuff.
5) Time flies by so fast. We have also noticed that you tend to forget that we’re not youngsters anymore. We are getting older and it takes less calories now to meet our body’s needs. Those extra calories are why we are getting chubby.
6) Some of our owners think that chubby pets are likely to live longer than the lean ones. We want to let you know that the opposite is actually the case. (ref)
7) Many of our owners only begin to think about our weight issues when, after many years, we are facing joint problems, diabetes and the like. Then they bring us to our veterinarian hoping to have things done to cure us. Our vets do all they can to help - but nothing can turn back the clock.
Not at all. Actually, we put it together to make you feel better. We wanted you to know why this problem is so hard to deal with and we do not want you to get down or feel guilty about not making the progress you had hoped for. We love you just as much and we are not worriers like you are. We live in the present – the here and now. You’ll be on this planet long after we are gone and we want you to have found memories of us – no guilt. Don’t let anyone hang a guilt trip on you about our weight. We don’t look in mirrors , we do not see it. And we wouldn’t feel a kibble better about ourselves if we were thinner.
No. You can find plenty of that in the references (ref)s in this article or you can take my word for it that there are a lot of them.
Strategies for pet weight loss are important - but your motivation as the pet owner is considerably more important.
We are hoping that some of the stuff we said so far might give you a better perspective on the issue. You know that past habits become a way of life not easily changed. To do so requires enthusiasm and support from the people around you. Perhaps you can team up or form a club, meetup or online interest group that face the same situation. The three of us did a Google search and didn’t find any – but perhaps we just didn’t do it right.
Just the fact that you have reading this long-winded article this far increases your chance for success. Whether you follow our suggestions or not, it shows you are serious, recognize a problem and have enough initiative to explore you and your pet’s options.
You already know that there are powerful forces working against success:
The natural inclination of animals to eat whenever the opportunity arises and to eat all that you put in front of them.
Commercial market forces producing high-carb energy dense pet foods – ever seen a fat dog or cat on a can or bag of chow ?
The Natural Inclinations of Love=nurture=food.
The inclination of people to start with enthusiasm but over time to become diverted by various life events.
Our tendency to look for quick easy fixes for complicated problems.
Consider these strategies. But remember, winning strategies for one pet owner are not necessarily the ones that will win for you.
1) Have your veterinarian check out the general health of your pet. You don’t want to dealing with other health issues during a weight loss program. They can do a physical examination, confirm that the pet is actually overweight and send off general health screen labwork.
2) Remember that not every time is the right time to begin.
3) Take Photographs of your pet from the side and above and pin them on the kitchen wall. You can pin up a photo as well a photo of a svelte (lean) pet as your goal if you wish.
4) Purchase a good quality scale to weigh your pet. Commit to regular weigh-ins (weekly or more frequently) and recording your diet and exercise progress in a journal. Treat for dog treat for you if you meet goal – that can mean no weight increase, not just a decrease.
5) Never feed your pet directly from a pet food sac or can. Always use some intermediate measuring cup that requires several scoops to give the food amount you desire.
6) Try not to feed your pet when you are hungry. Feed them after you eat rather than before.
7) Do a food intake inventory and weed out the big boys. The usual offenders are milk, in between high-caloric snacks and family members who sneak those things in. Don;t forbid treats, just replace them with something less caloric. If you can not do that, give them in smaller portions. If not, be sure to respect the fact that they are adding substantially to the pets daily calories.
8) If its more than you and the pet, decide who is going to be responsible for the feeding. You won't get anywhere with conflicting messages, goals and problem-solving skills. You need to be sure that all family members are on board.
9) Feed three or four 10-15 minute small meals rather than one large one. After the time is up, put the food back in the fridge.
10) Feed multiple pets separated if that is possible.
11) Plan on frequent food quantity adjustment based on weigh-ins. Cheap scales often lie. But they usually lie by about the same amount each time. You can purchase a quality scale or you can weigh something heavy on a quality merchant's sale and reweigh that item from time to time at home on your scale.
12) Feed a high-bulk, energy-poor foods. It is hard for many owners to bring themselves to give itsy bitsy amounts of energy rich diet. Rather use a bulkier fiber one. You can feed dogs cabbage, which has virtually no calories, and they’re usually happy – not cats. So mix it in if they turn up their noses. Doc lists other high-bulk, low-calorie thing you can add in the part on fiber that is farther along in this article.
13) Delegate the task to the least likely in the family to fail or have that person or you prepackage the correct amount in single-meal containers.
14) Set realistic goals. Don’t plan on going for the Gold. Remember that relatively small reductions in weigh can have significant benefits for your pet.
15) Find a Coach. Videos and leaflets available at the Vet Hospital are of limited usefulness. But weekly calls from a sympathetic and motivated vet tech with personalized advice are considerably more so. Some vets will reward their telephone coach techs for a successful weight loss case. Or you can let them know you intend to. There are veterinarians whose hospitals offer this for a fee. Just remember, there will come a time when you will have to maintain the program by yourself. A six-month wt loss program is of little or no value I you aren’t going to stick with it. Up-down weight changes can actually cause more harm than good.
16) Rotate the pet’s diet frequently – every meal, Monotony of taste and visual presentation breeds over-consumption. To get the same pleasurable effect the might be inclined to eat more of it.
17) Puzzle feeders are good in reducing a pet's total food consumed and discouraging boredom.
18) Many pets resist diet ingredient change. Consider topping off the new diet with one of the favored old ingredients until they become accustomed to new flavors and aromas. This is particularly true of fat cats. None of us not want them to go off food and develop hepatic lipidosis. Some pets will accept a new diet that is served warmed up, long before they would consider eating it cold from the fridge.
19) Your pets should never be completely full – it is unnatural for them to be and encourages a sedentary, sleepy mode.
If your pet’s diet formulation is to remain unchanged cut the total daily amount by one quarter the first week. Proceed to lower it more depending on the pet’s next weigh-in. A healthy cat or dog can usually tolerate a 1% weight loss per week (3-4% per month). If they are not achieving that, they are still consuming too many calories. Most knowledgeable folks believe that anything over a 1% weight loss per week is undesirable and possibly dangerous. Some of that loss could be in the pet’s lean body muscle which is something we do not want.
Not all dogs and cats of the same breed, age and body size require the same amount of food. Pay attention to your individual dog’s needs and progress rather than insisting on pre-plan standards. Be prepared to make change when necessary.
There are times when other pet health issues take precedent. Pets in tenuous health do not need the added stress of a diet.
There are pets in the twilight of their life. Set in their ways and best left to live in the comfort they know.
There are situations where diet success is unlikely to be achieved. Circumstances beyond your control, irresolvable issues, things that must take precedent.
You can’t go wrong by beginning by having your veterinarian do a physical examination on your pet, review its health records, discuss the situation with you and send of some general health screening tests. Unless you had it in mind, explain that you came because you value his/her wisdom and advice – not for products. Marketing is everything these days. If you are shunted to techs with rehearsed speeches or placed in front of a slick video, I would go elsewhere.
That can be very hard to do. Exercise is great for any pet. But its benefit is rarely seen as weight loss if the pet’s caloric food intake is not reduced at the same time.
Short of entering your dog in the Iditerod, you will probably not make headway in its weight loss when too many calories are coming in.
What exercise does do is improve its heart and blood circulatory function, improve bone strength, offer the pet a fun activity and mental stimulation and, perhaps, help its body to spare lean muscle mass during the weight reduction program.
Overweight and older dogs need to start at walking or jogging program very slowly and cautiously. They overheat easily. They are prone to ligament injury and sprains that are slow to heal. Their enthusiasm is often greater than their abilities. Stop frequently, bring ice and water along, be sure their toenails are clipped short and their collar not too tight.
Keep them leashed until they are quite experienced. Retrieving an object is great fun for most dogs and equals walking or running in its benefits. Tug of war with a rope is another great option. Again, don’t overdo it initially and be quite cautious in encouraging added activity in the arthritic or the elderly.
Cats are another story. They are not, by nature, very active in a home setting as they are not, by nature pack animals and their main impetus for exercise was hunting. That requires that they roam free out-of-doors. I do not encourage that. The dangers of feline outdoor living far outweigh any weight loss benefits they might produce. But most cats enjoy play activities – toys, bags, boxes, motorized mice, laser pointers and the like and there are escape-proof systems that allow cats to be in restricted areas out of doors. Cats can also be taught to take walks on a leash. Just be sure to use a harness rather than a neck collar and do not rely on the cat-friendliness of dogs (or other cats) that you meet.
A possible alternative for a pet is a long kennel stay for more exercise and better diet control. I offered that at one time. The pets will probably loose weight there; but they will face the same issues when they return home. It can speed up the process but I have always felt the pets were unhappy during their stay and only a small few kept the weight off for more than a few months after returning home.
As you already know, your pet will loose weight if you do not change its diet but just feed it less of it. But veterinarians have ideas as to what might constitute an optimal weight loss diet.
Pet food companies offer a variety of diets that they market as optimized for weight loss. Some are sold in store food isles, some only distributed through veterinarians. The companies all support “studies” and testimonials that their product is the very best of the lot. Although their unbiased quality is quite dubious (doubtful), some of those studies still get published in veterinary journals. (ref)
Commercial weight reduction diets for dogs and cats work. They all rely on lowering the diet’s fat content, upping its protein content and lowering its carbohydrate content.
Above all, they contain large amounts of calorie-free fiber to give the pet the sense of stomach fullness and so, discourage over eating. As importantly, these bulky low-cal diets also give the owner the feeling that the pet is not being deprived of a full meal. However,
cats on dry kibble diets rarely if ever drink sufficient water. That can lead to other health problems. For cats, canned diets are better although, over time, those tend to cause considerable gum and dental disease. New formula over-the-counter hard dental chews can alleviate that – if you can get your cat to accept them. Things like standard Milk Bones are completely ineffective.
I personally recommend that pet owners prepare their own moist diets from scratch at home to avoid many of the potential problems in the way commercial pet foods are manufactured. Making your cat’s diet at home also allows you to avoid carbohydrate glut which, among other things, encourages obesity. Read about that here, here and here if you wish. Cats, in particular, require minimum levels of animal fat in their diets below that they do not thrive (~10%).
That minimum level might not be reached if the home-prepared diet relies on very lean meat with no further additional fat. Making these sort of diets at home also allows you to keep the protein content higher than that found in many off-the-shelf diets. High protein is though by many to help preserve lean muscle during the dieting process. The closest reliable thing to a high protein, starch-free prepackaged product is probably the Wysong Epigen line. (ref) (If you go that rout, discuss your planned use and your pet's body condition with their nutritionists since those diets are not a fiber-rich formulas formulated for weight control.)
Basically, you can bend the ingredients of all nutritionally-complete home-prepared dog and pet food recipes a bit - up its fiber and protein content and lower its fat. As long as you control the amount fed your pet should loose weight on such a diet. If you just feed more of it, nothing will change. I also emphasize variety in ingredients, one meat and high fiber ingredient in one prepared batch, another in the next. I always suggest that ingredients be lightly cooked to avoid bacterial and parasite contamination. (ref, rptref ) Ground meat products need a more thorough cooking than slab meats. (ref)
A bulky, energy-poor, fiber fortified food is the key strategy in commercial weight-loss petfoods. That added fiber in commercial petfoods (on a dry weight basis) can range from 7-17% (I would be highly cautious about feeding products over 10%). Most producers list the fiber source as powdered cellulose – a byproduct of the lumber industry. Essentially, it is finely powdered wood. This type of fiber (insoluble fiber) passes through your pet’s body essentially unchanged. Cat’s and some dogs do not tolerate the high-end levels well because of fiber’s laxative qualities. Another fiber source in pet foods are sugar beet fiber – a byproduct of the sugar industry that retains very little of the beet’s sugar.
Most of Doc's clients, preparing high-fiber diets at home, rely on cooked carrots, canned or cooked unsweetened, unspiced pumpkin and ground, well cooked broccoli and wheat and oat bran. Raw carrots and broccoli, when accepted, also work well as dental chews; but they can provoke loose stools, diarrhea and colic.
There are those that rebel at adding any plant ingredients, like fiber or vegetables, to cat and dog diets. They claim it is unnatural to do that with carnivores and that it prevents the absorption of other nutrients in the diet (fat cats and dogs are actually doing too good a job at absorbing nutrients ! ). They refer back to an article [That was actually quite positive in its findings] (ref) and say you must practice “tough love” and just feed your cat or dog less. They believe that it is fundamentally wrong to feed a carnivore stuff they would not naturally consume. If you have the type of temperament and philosophy - you can go with it. Doc personally doesn't and Pete and I aren't big on vegan pet diets either - unless your pet is a rabbit or cow. (ref)
If you provide your pet with too many calories in a day, it will get fat. It doesn’t matter if that is a calorie from a can or bag of pet food or a calorie from the foods you eat. There is a though that a calorie supplied by protein has advantages over a calorie supplied by carbohydrates (starch, sugar) or fat because the pet spends more calories processing proteins than the others. But that's irrelevant because commercial pet foods are packed with carbohydrates.
Still, I am not a fan of feeding pets your table food leftovers indiscriminately in any substantial amounts. Like kids, dogs and cats tend to go for the unhealthy stuff before the healthy. Table foods, fed to dogs and cats, need to be as nutritionally balanced to meet the animal’s nutritional needs as they should be to be for you to meet your somewhat different nutritional needs. The reason that some studies found that pets that receive table scraps tend to be overweight is that people who routinely give them tend to be the ones that overfeed their pets everything.
Eating habits, metabolic pathways, taste preference, and greater susceptibility to fatness (adiposity) are established when your pet is quite young. You rarely notice changes then because their effects often occur much later in life. Your pet's first months are the time you need to guide it toward a healthy adult lifestyle. Once bad habits are ingrained, they can be very hard to change. (rptref) You and I know that from events in our own lives.
Young dog and cats in a home environment have the ability to gain body weight at a faster rate than that which promotes their long term health and lifespan (longevity). Studies to confirm that in dogs and cats are rare. They are expensive, can take take an entire career to confirm and would probably be opposed by the more radical humane groups. But one was conducted in dogs. (ref) and another touched on it in cats (ref) In every species that has been examined that was the case. (ref1, ref2)
Chubby kittens and chubby puppies are undoubtedly cute. And people have the tendency to choose the biggest ones in a litter. Dames can not produce unlimited amounts of milk. That regulates their offspring’s growth rate. Introducing unlimited solid food to puppies and kittens at too young an age or bottle feeding puppies and kitten too enthusiastically removes that natural regulation on excessive body growth and fatness.
Most animal research scientists believe that it is during that early period that animals develop their final number of fat cells (adipocytes). Once those cells are present, they shrink and expand depending on the calories at hand – but the majority never go away. (ref) Some believe that some fat individuals have fewer fat cells, but the ones that they have are large – expanded with oils (triglycerides). Those are the individuals who were not fat in their youth but became so later in life. Others are believed to be fat because they have more numerous fat cells – those are the individuals who were fat in their youth. It appears to some that the individuals with the larger number of fat cells have the hardest time loosing weight. That is a theory - not a fact. In many cases, it is probably a combination of those factor and many more - not nearly so simple.
In 2015, there are many well-funded forces advocating that you have your pet neutered just as soon as you can. It is highly politically incorrect to question that and we know that Doc catches a lot of flack for doing so. But all scientific data and observations suggests that neutering puppies and kittens before their first heat cycle can have negative health consequences for the rest of that pet’s life – including a tendency toward obesity. Advocates counter that all you have to do to keep them trim is feed them less. That is scientifically true, but Doc and the two of us know how really tough that can be. Besides, obesity is not the only health issue we can face after pediatric neutering. (ref)
When you see articles and online advertisements that oppose that view, they are invariably written or underwritten by groups and individuals with “skin in the game” well-meaning folks who are desperate to solve the pet overpopulation problem. But Doc doesn't believe you can correct one wrong with another wrong. (ref)
L-carnitine is a compound that your pet’s liver and kidneys synthesizes from the amino acids lysine and methionine in the presence of vitamin C. It is involved in the breakdown of stored body fat. L-carnitine is hyped in the popular press as a weight loss supplement and you can buy it in capsules in any health food store. But there is absolutely no scientific evidence that it is helpful in loosing weight.
Some Petfood companies have now jumped onboard and added l-carnitine to their weight loss diets. It’s probably harmless since its primary source is red meat.
Repeat and I suggest that if you would like to add additional l-carnitine to our diets, increase the amount of moderately cooked lean beef steak that you feed us. Its about 1000 ppm carnitine versus the 809 ppm in the supplemented weight loss diet we checked. Supermarket beef is considerably less expensive and tastes a whole lot better ! (ref)
Doc does not know of any effective method of dealing with that other than separating them at feeding time and we don't either. Some folks suggest some sort of gaited contraption that the fatter pet cannot pass through. Or that you take advantage of the fat pet’s inability to reach food placed on tables. We believe that would likely psychologically stress out the more obese pet. I know that Pete would be quite perturbed if he smelled food and couldn't get to it.