Posts Tagged ‘weight loss’

Keeping Your Kitty at a Healthy Weight

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I have had writer’s block over this very newsletter for TWO MONTHS and I finally realized why.  I have had great personal success treating feline obesity.  The catch is I have had a data base of one, and thus feel as though I do not have the experience to tell you how to treat or prevent obesity in every individual kitty.

Cats are much more difficult weight loss candidates than are dogs.  There are a myriad of different diet options and exercise options, most of them mirrored after what works in dogs or people, which, as you know, are entirely different species than cats!  Also, cats are not always as amiable to trying new things as dogs are.

With dogs, a slow, steady weight loss is most ideal, however, rapid weight loss is not as dangerous a situation as it is in cats.  As Amanda Kehm reminded me to mention, fatty liver, or hepatic lipidosis, is a condition of cats that may develop when cats metabolize their fat stores more quickly than their body can process them.  The fat byproducts build up in the liver, and interfere with the liver’s function.  This happens most often with weight loss secondary to an induced diet or a primary disease.  Hepatic lipidosis is treatable, but it can cause significant discomfort, and in extreme cases can even be fatal.  Do not let this scare you!  This disease becomes extremely rare when an otherwise healthy overweight cat is aided in slow, steady weight loss using appropriate means.

Russ and I have owned only one cat, the awesome and beautiful Max the Cat.  He had been one of two blood donors at Iowa State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  When I graduated, we adopted him and brought him with us to Littleton Colorado.  He has had only two health-related issues in his life, dental disease and obesity, admittedly both very huge issues for a cat.  So Max gets his teeth cleaned under anesthesia once a year.  And when he became overweight, we switched him from Science Diet Maintenance to Science Diet Light.  He has always enjoyed playing, so we did not change anything about his exercise habits.  The diet change alone was enough to bring Max back to a healthy weight within a year.

I know…I usually write in broader strokes, in generalities that can apply to every pet, but here is my new idea, for this newsletter at least…Let’s write this one together.  Tell me what has worked to encourage your cat to exercise and what foods and feeding schedules have helped them to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.  I will put your stories right into this newsletter word for word.

If you are frustrated with trying to help your cat lose weight, or if your cat has developed diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, three of the most common sequelae to obesity in cats, tell me that story too.

And tell me what more you would like to know about this area of veterinary medicine.  When I was planning this newsletter, I pictured everyone with an overweight pre-diabetic kitty being able to say, with relief and confidence, “Oh, good.  Now I have a plan.”  And I have been staring at a blank screen, because I just couldn’t write the newsletter that would get us all there.  But I am confident that we can.

I think the most good can be done for the most cats if we all pool our ideas, and come up with some great ideas together.  This topic is much more developed on the canine side of veterinary nutrition, though I believe that veterinary nutrition is making amazing strides on the feline side.  My guess is that in five years, we will have as good of answers to feline obesity prevention and treatment as we do for canine obesity prevention and treatment today.  I also believe that you and I are a part of that answer.  How exciting!  Thank you in advance for your help!

Erika Workman, Pet Nurse says,

“Hmm…getting kitties in shape. That’s kind of a hard one…My kitties keep themselves in shape by playing together… I just have really active kitties, so mine are in great shape. When I had Beau, he was a fattypants, and hated to be outside, so I would take him outside and shut the back door, carry him to the back fence and let him go. He would run to the door, I would go get him and repeat until I felt he’d had enough exercise. Very healthy, and entertaining!”

Russ Finch says,

“Pippin, the cat I had as a kid, was never fat that I remember, but thinking back I see two reasons why.  First, the cat had two main foods that it would consistently eat; donuts and ice cream.  That sounds like a recipe for a fat cat, but in order to get these items, she had to run up, steal them, and run away out of reach to eat them – fast food :)   Second, we played with that cat constantly, which she usually liked.  Her favorite game was fishing.  I put a cat toy on the end of a long fishing line, wound it around the railings, up and down steps, down the hall, through the kitchen… whatever.  Then I got her to follow it as I reeled her in.  She was always active and I think that made all the difference.”

Amanda Kehm of Oakview Petshotel says,

“We’ve had a few board with us recently, and each is trying to lose too fast!  So…no success yet.”

Jodi Finch says,

“Putter was fat. Grandpa spoiled him rotten. Earl was not fat, he was cool. Large, but cool.  Earl and Putter got lots of exercise. They loved to chase things – it didn’t matter what. If it moved, they chased it. Earl was particularly fond of hiding behind things and ambushing people when they walked by… then running like his tail was on fire.”

Caroline Merchant, DVM says,

“I had 2 fat cats. One became hyperthyroid and lost weight, then got cancer and lost more weight. The other cat became diabetic and lost weight. I don’t recommend those methods, although the diabetic seems to have gotten under control and kept the weight off by eating exclusively canned food (feline k/d).”

Daniel Muller says,

Leonard loves to eat. In fact, it is the ONLY thing he is passionate about. He finds little interest in fancy toys or catnip. Giving Leonard a scratch on his (extremely large and round) belly will certainly leave you with a few bite marks. When he is out of food, he will let you know:  a high pitched, almost un-feline like whine and the execution of any lamp, cup, plate, book, phone, etc resting on a table or desk.

I try to only feed Leonard twice a day:  a half cup in the morning and a half cup after work.  This has proven to be an overzealous approach to feeding this beast.  Every morning, around 3:30 I hear crashing and smashing.  Leonard is hungry.  And breaking my stuff.  I like my stuff, so I feed him again.  If I do put my foot down and say “no! you are too fat! no more food today,” he feasts on a house plant or rummages through the trash.

I have Leonard on a weight control formula cat food, but my 22 pound tabby cat is not shedding any weight.

I say…

You all are very wise.  The most frustrating cats are the ones, like Leonard, who have such great owners, and with whom we are doing everything right, and they still are not losing weight.  They too can be brought back to a healthy weight though.  Do not give up!  I will keep this newsletter “open” as long as everyone has ideas.  If you want help with your individual kitty, let me know!

My broad (haha) recommendation is to bring your kitty in for a wellness check-up.  We will weigh him or her and determine his or her body condition score.  See “I Promise Not to Say Kilocalorie to You” for instructions on determining body condition score.  It is very simple, and is determined the same for dogs and cats.

From there, we will determine if the food your cat is on is appropriate or if a different food is needed.  We will talk more in person about this one:   There are high fiber and, more recently, high protein (Catkins-haha) diets for weight loss in cats.  Either can be appropriate, and there are drawbacks to both.

With dogs, we may switch them from free-feeding to meals, or decrease the amount of food per meals.  Scheduled meals may not be the way to go with cats.  They naturally enjoy and are suited for eating several small meals through the day and night.

And exercise is good for ALL of us, but as you know, the best way to get a cat to yell their mantra at you (“CATS ARE NOT SMALL DOGS!”) is to put a leash on one!  So we will find some FUN exercise options.  Before you know it, your cat will once again be sleek and fit…and ready for a well-earned nap.

I Promise Not to Say Kilocalorie to You.

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Now that we all are walking around Omaha together…or will be when winter finally ends…my next suggested resolution for you is much simpler.  In fact, it should take all of five seconds.

I want you to go look at your dog from above.   Dave and Sara, get a stepping stool! Mom and Dad, sit criss-cross next to Ernie!   The rest of you…stand over your dog.   Now everyone, see what shape he or she is.   Next, run your hands over their sides from their neck to their tummy.

There!   You are done!   Now you may go do something more fun.   Or read on to interpret the results of the two very important medical tests you just performed.

In the first test, you are looking for a waist on your dog.  I realize different breeds are different shapes.  Yes, it is fine that your Pug is football shaped!  He may not, however, be soccer ball shaped.  Most dogs should have a slightly “tucked in” waist right behind their ribcage.  They should not be completely “straight” from their neck to their tail, or worse, have a big tummy that is visible from above.  You can also look at them from the side and their waist should “tuck in” a little there too.

Second test:  You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs, but not see them.  If you are unable to feel their ribs with a gentle pat over their sides, they may have fat pads there, which is an indication they may be overweight.  If you are able to feel and see their ribs well, they may be underweight.

There are two common body condition score methods, 1-9 and 1-5.  I like 1-5 because it is simpler, but either is good.  In the 1-5 system, 1 is very skinny, 2 is too skinny, 3 is ideal, 4 is overweight and 5 is obese.  Our goal is to assess your pet now, match that score to his or her current weight and make an educated guess at an ideal weight.  We will use diet and exercise to get them to their ideal weight and adjust the actual number in pounds as we get closer, until we have a lifelong ideal weight to try to keep them close to.

If you tuned out at “diet and exercise” come back!  This is a much easier concept in pets than it is in us.

With people, there is emotional eating, eating when we are bored, eating for fun.  Try to adjust that concept to emotional feeding, feeding when we are bored, feeding for fun.  Would you agree that most emotional issues with food and our pets are our issues projected onto them?  I LOVE lining my three black dogs up by the snack cabinet and passing treats out.  Do NOT tell my Dad-in-law, but I LOVE feeding Ebony right off my plate at dinner.  I love seeing them jump in happy “I’m going to get lunch meat” circles…all MY issues, huh?  The truth is, if I had to feed them one-half-cup-light-kibble-twice-a-day-until-at-a-healthy-weight, eating the measured diet would not be so difficult for them, but it probably would be difficult for me to carry out.

So, as is often the case, I have a SIMPLE concept for you that is in no way EASY.  However, if you needed to get all strict (with YOURSELF) for awhile, so your pet could be healthy, you could do it, couldn’t you?

You are right that dogs DO get hungry between meals, especially when we feed them less to help them lose weight.  This is an area where fiber may help.  Perhaps switching to a light (higher fiber) or even prescription diet would help.  High fiber treats and snacks are also available.  We can work on a diet plan together.

Exercise is a similar issue.  It is a simple concept that is not easy to implement.  We will talk about cats when I have something intelligent and helpful to say!  However, exercising an otherwise healthy but overweight dog is pretty simple.  If he or she has health issues, such as arthritis or heart troubles, let’s work together to get those stable first, then we will come up with a safe, modified exercise plan.  But if your dog has a clean bill of health, and a green light for exercise, the sticking point is going to be our own inertia, not our dog’s.

So assuming you have a dog who has been blessed “healthy and safe to exercise and have on an adult maintenance diet” by the health care team, here are some rules of thumb.  Talk with me about dog food brands.  There are so many excellent choices, and you are such great owners, that chances are the food you are now feeding is ideal.

The only two feeding patterns I do not like are free-feeding and once a day feeding.  First, free-feeding…Dogs are not self-regulating feeders, so most can not have constant access to food and remain at a lifelong healthy weight.  But some can.

And cats are not self-regulating feeders either, and if I tell you it is not an option for your dog, my cat Max will find out I told you that and tell you what HIS feeding schedule is.  And then you will both laugh at me.  Incidentally, we are not allowed to let the bottom of either side of Max’s food bowl show.  Seriously.  He has woken us up in the middle of the night to remind us.  So if you free feed your dog, I believe you when you say it is what works best for your family!

The opposite extreme is once a day feeding.  Everyone used to do this.  And it is still pretty common.  So don’t feel bad if you do.  However, studies show that MOST dog bites occur just before the daily meal of dogs fed once a day.  I know…your dog is not a biter!  But researchers suspected this pattern indicated a blood sugar issue.  Follow-up studies showed that dogs are very often hypoglycemic if fasted for twenty-four hours, which is essentially the situation of dogs fed once a day.  So their blood sugar gets low and they get CRABBY.  Or sad.  Or sluggish.  Just like us.

My rule of thumb for feedings is three times a day for puppies until the age of four to six months, then twice a day for the remainder of their life.

A rule of thumb for amount of food is one cup per day per ten pounds of puppy divided into appropriate feedings until the age of one.  (A ten pound puppy would be fed 1/3 cup three times a day.)

For adult dogs, the amount is one cup per day per twenty pounds, divided into feedings.  (A twenty pound dog would be fed 1/2 cup twice a day.)  This is a very rough rule of thumb.  If the amount you are feeding is keeping your pet at a healthy weight, then obviously, that is the amount that is right!

The amount will differ from dog to dog, and be skewed by activity level and metabolism changes.  If your puppy is growing, weigh him or her every week or so, and do the two body condition score tests (waist check and rib check) often, and increase feedings to maintain steady growth.  With large and giant breed puppies, you do not want them to gain weight too quickly.  Slow, steady growth will minimize their risks for joint problems later.

As far as exercise goes, walking is my favorite one.  Base the length of walks on your and your pup’s fitness level.  Base the number of walks per day or week on what works best for your schedule.

Running crazy in the yard or dog park is also good, but does not replace walking with you.  Swimming is an excellent exercise and may be ideal if your pet has joint issues or is recovering from an injury or orthopedic surgery.

Running is good for some dogs, mostly based on whether the two of you enjoy it!  But also, they must be in good enough health to be a running buddy, and large and giant breed pups must wait till they are Big Dogs to run, to allow their cute little growth plates to mature first.  If you allow your dog to run alongside your bike, be very careful to watch for him to become tired.  He will be done long before you are!

Agility is great exercise and fun for both of you.  Hunting is great exercise too.  I’ll bet you can think of a hundred more exercises that I have not thought of.  If you have more ideas, post them here, because I hope that 2009 is the year we are all going to get (and stay) healthy together!

So here are your action points:

1)  Do a quick check of your dog’s overall body condition score, considering appearance, the rib check, the waist check, and lastly, the number of pounds he or she currently weighs.

2)  Decide (with the health care team) if he or she needs to gain or lose weight, or is at an ideal weight.   Figure his or her body condition score.

3)  Reassess your food brand, food type (maintenance, light, prescription, etc.), meal frequency, and amount of food.  If you don’t measure food, consider measuring how much you currently give, so you have a “starting point” if weight is ever an issue, even if it is not now.  Again, bring the health care team in on this step.  You pay us for our smarts, so get your money’s worth!

4)  Decide on an exercise plan.  Try to think of activities that are fun enough for the both of you that you will want to continue long term.

That’s it!  You are set!  Good luck, and let me know how it goes!  You are AWESOME owners, and most of your pets are healthy now, so I know you will do GREAT.  Ebony, Noodle, Joy and I will try to keep up with you!