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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Weight, Obesity, Diet and Food

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"My veterinarian has suggested that my pet Sugar lose weight. Do you have any suggestions that might be helpful?"

Answer:
”Obesity is a severe and debilitating illness. It is the most common nutritional disease in pets and people; estimates suggest that up to 45% of dogs and up to 13% of cats are obese (many doctors think these estimates are quite low judging by the number of obese pets they see every day in practice.) Current medical opinion states that a pet is obese if it weighs 15% or more over its ideal weight. While pet owners often use the pet's actual weight to gauge obesity, it is probably more accurate to use a body composition score. Body composition, measured by looking at the pet from the top and sides and feeling the areas over the ribs and spine more accurately reflects obesity than a certain magical number.

Keep in mind that most obese pets are made, not born, that way. Many owners encourage begging and give too many treats and snacks. While people who constantly reward these begging behaviors believe they are being kind and loving, they are actually killing their pets with kindness.

Problems that are associated with obesity in pets and people are numerous and include orthopedic problems (including arthritis, ruptured ligaments, and disk disease,) difficulty breathing, reduced capacity for exercise (and in severe cases any movement at all,) heat intolerance, increased chance for complications due to drug therapy (it is more difficult to accurately dose medications in obese pets,) cardiac problems, hypertension, and cancer. When you keep in mind that the excess body fat occurs in the body cavities of the chest and abdomen (often being deposited there first) as well as under the skin (what we see as "fat",) it is not surprising all of the medical problems that can be associated with obesity.

Because diseases such as hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus can be associated with obesity, obese pets should be screened for these disorders prior to treatment for obesity

The treatment of obesity involves restricting calories and increasing the metabolic rate via a controlled exercise program. Using store bought "Lite" diets is not usually adequate, as these diets are not designed for weight loss but rather weight maintenance. Additionally, since many store bought diets may contain chemicals, by-products, and fillers, they would not be a part of a holistic pet program. Homemade restricted calorie diets would be the first choice for dietary therapy for obese pets (see my book The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats for an example of a homemade diet for overweight pets;) processed "obesity-management" diets available through veterinarians would be the second best choice as some of these diets may also contain chemicals, by-products, and fillers. These "obesity-management" diets are used until the target weight is obtained, then replaced with a homemade maintenance diet if possible or a more natural and healthy pet food.

Foods which increase metabolism such as vegetables which are high in fiber are included in weight loss diets. Fiber, contained in vegetables, decreases fat and glucose absorption; fluctuating glucose levels cause greater insulin release. Since insulin is needed for fat storage, decreased or stable levels are preferred. Fiber also binds to fat in the intestinal tract and increases movement of the food in the intestines, which is of benefit to the obese pet.


There are several natural therapies that may be helpful as part of the treatment of obesity in some pets. Suggested therapies include chromium, carnitine, herbs (cayenne, ginger, and mustard,) hydroxycitric acid (HCA,) white bean extract, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG,) and coenzyme Q-10. These natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not been thoroughly investigated and proven at this time. In general, they work to boost metabolism, inhibit carbohydrate digesting enzymes, maintain normal blood insulin levels (which promotes the burning of fat,) and control appetite.


Finally, as with people, a regular program of supervised exercise is also important for pets on a weight reduction program. Using these ideas will help your pet get that old, slim figure back!”


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I have a 2 year old miniature schnauzer. Prior to having him neutered he was on the thin side. Now he has gained weight. He does not eat everything I give him. He gets 2/3 of a cup of light dog food (Science Diet) twice a day. The doctor had given me some other dog food to try and stimulate his thyroid which he seems to think is the problem, but he refused to eat it. No tests have been run yet. Is there anything I would be able to give him? He is very active. I do notice though that because of the weight he is having some breathing problems. I don't want to have to put him on medications if there is some other natural method of helping him. Any suggestions?"

Answer:
"My first suggestion is to have blood testing done, including thyroid testing. Hypothyroidism is a possibility, although he may also simply be getting too many calories (even “light” food is too rich for some dogs) and not enough exercise. If he needs a special diet, so be it. Otherwise I would strongly suggest moving him towards a more natural food as a starting point.

Regarding supplements, this really depends upon the blood testing. At the least glandular supplements to support the adrenal glands and thyroid glands could help in the short term. A health maintenance formula can be given for life to help balance his system and minimize more diseases down the road. If the blood tests show hypothyroidism some pets do great on natural supplements (I use T-Lyph) whereas others need synthetic thyroid medicine (at least at the beginning of their treatment regimen.) While hormone imbalances per se should not have made him gain weight, in the short term a glandular supplement to rebalance his hormones might also be tried. I use Symplex M for male dogs and Symplex F for female dogs (this supplement is also part of my basic protocol for dogs with urinary incontinence.)

Finally, if your doctor suggests a weight loss program, be patient. Weight loss can take from 3-12 months depending upon the pet. Give these suggestions a try and let me know how things turn out."

 

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