Charlie has had a huge appetite since he was a puppy. Chris has always tried to be strict about feeding him nothing but a standard diet, but Charlie has a way of looking at him with big eyes, and it’s just so easy to give in. Charlie slowly began to gain excessive weight as a young adult, and the situation came to a head one Christmas. Charlie had a particularly greedy festive season, and when a visitor pointed out that his health would soon be at risk because of his obesity, Chris brought him to see me to discuss what could be done.
The first thing that I did was to put Charlie on the scales. He weighed in at just over 27kg (around 60 lbs). A Cocker Spaniel is meant to weigh up to around 15kg (33 lbs), which meant that Charlie was heading for twice his optimal weight. To put this into human terms, he was like a ten stone person who had ballooned to almost twenty stone.
I gave Charlie a thorough physical check-over, and he was in perfect health. There was no hint of any of the metabolic diseases (such as an underactive thyroid gland) that can contribute to obesity. The problem with Charlie was simple: he was eating too much food and not getting enough exercise. The answer to his problem was equally simple in theory: feed him less and exercise him more. Chris immediately started giving Charlie energetic walks twice daily, but the food aspect was more challenging.
Regular reweighing is the most useful tool in weight loss programmes, and Charlie was given a once a month appointment for a free check up with one of our veterinary nurses who has a particular interest in animal nutrition. Over the following twelve months, Charlie’s weight was recorded regularly.
Initially, Chris just tried feeding him less of his standard, supermarket-type dried diet. Chris found this difficult to do. Charlie was so hungry that Chris found it impossible not to give in to his demands for extra food. After four months of struggling, Charlie hadn’t lost any weight, so a new approach was needed.
Charlie was put onto a special prescription-only diet food for dogs. It’s high in fibre but low in energy, giving Charlie the same “full” feeling without taking in as many calories. The problem with this diet was immediately obvious: Charlie was reluctant to eat it on its own, and Chris felt so bad about it that he ended up giving him some normal food with it, to make it tastier. Another few months of no weight loss followed.
At this stage, a compromise diet plan was put into place. The dry diet food still makes up 80% of Charlie’s meals, but Chris is allowed to add a few tablespoons of low-fat, home-made stew to make it tastier. He buys cheap stewing steak from the supermarket, cooks a big batch every week, and freezes it in standard-sized plastic containers. Every day, Charlie gets two small meals of a precise weight of dried food, with one small portion of stew. He loves his dinners now, and the good news is that his weight has begun to reduce.
- Owners need to remember not to over-indulge their pets
- The most effective weight loss programme involves prescription-only low calorie pet food
- As in humans, slow, steady weight loss over many months is the most successful approach