Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I have to say that Thanksgiving is absolutely my favorite holiday. Perhaps it was because I was born on Thanksgiving Day so growing up, the Thanksgiving "season" always had some special meaning. But as a grown-up, I think I love Thanksgiving because it is a celebration without strings attached. It is simplistic and that is refreshing when life can be so hectic and complicated. Thanksgiving is about getting together with family and friends and enjoying really good home cooking. No gifts, no fancy decorations, no fireworks, no baskets of candy. Just family, friends and food.

So for those reasons, I am going to indulge myself in this blog and stray away from veterinary medicine for just a bit. I encourage everyone to take the time over this Thanksgiving season to make your own list. Everyone has bad parts in their lives. Let's take a moment to push those aside and only think of the positives. I'll bet you can come up with more than you'd think.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. There are so many things in my life to be thankful for that when I truly think about it, I am overwhelmed. In no particular order....... I guess I'll start with family. I am so blessed that neither my family or my husband's family has any real drama surrounding them. We are just ordinary people going through life and livin' and lovin' every moment. I have a job that I truly love and I work with some of the most talented, brightest and caring people on the planet. I get to spend every single day working with animals. The community where I live is full of wonderful people. I am blessed to live on a farm with woods and fields out my backdoor that I can enjoy at any time. Except for minor glitches, my health is good as is the health of my family. I have food on the table and running water and electricity. Music is a big part of my life and that brings me great joy. I am blessed to be living in the United States of America and while we are not perfect, this is the best nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all and all that jazz (or in my case all that country music). *grin*

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Take time to cherish everyone and everything that you love.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The "O" word: the final word

This is a good day for me to make the final blog on obesity series. This morning I saw Chloe the Boxer for her annual physical exam. Last year, Chloe weighed in at a chubby 67 lbs. I gave the standard diet recommendation and this year Chloe is a trim 58 lbs.. You do not know how happy I get when I see that! What a good job by Chloe's "mom"! Chloe's mom commented on much more active Chloe is now that she shed 9 lbs. That is a LOT for a dog. Equivalent to a woman losing around 20 lbs. Happy owner. Happy dog. Happy vet. Happy!

Now darn me I didn't bring my camera to work today so I don't have a picture of Chloe. What I do have is a picture of Harley. Harley is a slim and trim 7 year old Labrador Retriever. Some days I wonder if a normal weight lab exist, so Harley is a welcome change from the steady parade of obese retrievers that come through the door. Here are a couple of pictures of Harley. Notice in the view from above that he indeed has a waist. So cool!

So how to get your pet down to a happy weight? There are 2 basic options for cats and 3 for dogs. They all have their pluses and minuses so I will go over them one at a time.

Option 1. Standard diet and exercise. First you need to figure out how many calories your pet should be eating. I have a great chart at the clinic that works for 99% of the pets I see. It's too long to post here, but feel free to call or email me and I'll get the information to you. You can also get a smaller version of the chart at the web page. After you get the number of calories needed per day, you get to count calories for your pet. You have to count calories from ALL food sources including treats. Yes, you can still give treats (lets be real. we all give our dogs at least a few treats every day), but you have to count the calories. Again call or email me if you have questions about how to figure out how many calories are in different foods or treats. I don't mention as much about exercise as I should, but we all need exercise. Good excuse to take the dog for a walk. Cats are a little harder, but laser lights and toys that dispense bits of food as the cat plays with it (instead of eating it out of a dish) work well.

The advantages of option 1. No diet change needed. The most inexpensive method.
The disadvantages of option 1. Studies show only about a 6% success rate. A slight possibility of pets not getting the right amount of nutrients if fed reduced amount of a standard diet for a long period of time (although I have not seen this happen, ever.)

Option 2. Prescription reducing diet. These are special veterinary formula diets that you can only get through a veterinarian. They tend to have low amounts of calories per cup or ounce of food. Again, you have to count calories; but because you have to get the diet through our clinic, there is a tendency for closer monitoring. This makes these diets more successful than using standard diets.

The advantages of option 2. Reducing diets provide more nutrients and satisfy that hungry feeling better than using a standard diet. There tends to be closer monitoring of weight and adjusting of diet if needed. Higher success rate than reducing the amount of a standard diet.
The disadvantages of option 2. More expensive than a regular diet (but remember, pets are not on this for life. Think of it as medicine to treat a medical condition which is what obesity is.) Have to order through a veterinarian.

Option 3. Slentrol weight loss drug. This is only an option for dogs. This option works very well for the dogs that are so appetite driven that when you cut calories they start doing bad things like getting into the garbage or breaking into the cupboards to get to food. The drug is a liquid that you give by mouth. It is basically an appetite suppressant and it does work very well when used properly.

The advantages of option 3. Controls appetite so the dogs are more comfortable during the weight loss phase. Works well for most dogs. Does not necessarily need a diet change (although you still need to change the way you feed your dog to keep the weight from coming back after discontinuing the drug).
The disadvantages of option 3. Requires veterinary monitoring and is a prescription drug. More expensive than option 1. The safety has only been tested for 1 year of continuous use so some very obese dogs may have to go with another option if weight loss takes longer than a year. Not to be used with some chronic medical conditions such as liver disease.

As a final note, I just have to show you a picture of Tuff the Golden Retriever. I saw Tuff last year for his annual exam and he weighed 106.3 lbs.. Unfortunately I don't have a before picture., but there is no Golden Retriever that I have ever seen that should weigh this much. So we discussed diet and exercise. Fast forward to this year when Tuff showed up for his annual exam sporting a new 85.7 lb weight. Oh boy did he ever look good. That is over 20 lbs of weight loss on a dog! How cool is that! Congratulations to Tuff's family for doing such a good job. The rewards will be a happier and healthier dog. You couldn't ask for better than that.

I'm sure I'll be posting more pictures from time to time of happy dogs that have lost weight so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The "O" word: part 2

How does one week become two? It's called Dr. C. going on vacation and Dr. Di holding down the fort. Makes for little blogging time. So sorry. *grin*

Part one was an introduction to pet obesity. The biggest challenge that I face as a veterinarian talking about obesity is to convince people that being a chubby pet is not just cosmetic. It is a life threatening medical condition. It makes pets feel miserable. I know this because I see the difference between thin pets and fat pets. But to someone who has a chubby pet that is happy and wagging his tail, how do I convince someone that their chubby ball of fur would be even happier and live even longer? It's a tough challenge to be sure.

First, how does one know what is "normal" body weight? Start with looking at a body condition scoring chart. This is a chart that veterinarians use on medical records to show if a pet is normal, underweight or overweight. There are a lot of these charts out and about on the web. Purina has a great 9 point chart that I like to use, but the 5 point charts are probably simpler. Ohio State University has a good 5 point chart on their web site. Now I do have one pet peeve about most of these charts. Almost all will say something like "ribs palpable". Is palpable a word in common usage that most people know the meaning? I know what the word means, but do you (if you are not in a medical profession)? Why can't the charts just say "ribs can be felt". Simple and easy to understand.

Another hurdle to overcome in normal vs overweight debate is that more of our dogs and cats are overweight than are normal weight. I absolutely believe this is true. Pet owners are losing sight of what normal should look like because their neighbors, friends and relatives commonly have overweight pets. Overweight has become the "norm". But this is NOT healthy.

The third challenge is convincing owners that a dog or cat with a strong drive for food is starving if they beg, steal or "wolf" down their food. Food drive or appetite is an interesting phenomenon. Certainly having a strong drive to eat serves our wild carnivores well. If a wolf pack takes down an elk or a deer, it is the strongest and most aggressive wolf that gets the most from this feast. They have no way of knowing when their next meal will come. It could be a week or two at least. Our domestic pets have some of this instinct built in. We feed the dog at 8am and it chows down its food. The dog doesn't know that its next meal will be later in the day. It needs to eat its meal all and eat it right now. There might be no later. This is good for the wolf. Not good for the dog that snoozes on the sofa all day and gets daily food and treats.

Last but not least is realizing just how many calories there are in most dry foods. Although there are exceptions, a lot of dry dog and cat food has 400 or more calories per cup of food. If the average sized cat needs around 180-200 calories per day, this means a cat should be eating about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of food per day. How many cats will eat this little if food is left out all the time? Hey, leaving a bowl of dry food out all day for the cat to nibble on as it likes is how I was always taught to feed the cat. Sorry, but this feeding practice leads to a lot of chubby cats. We all need to learn new ways to feed our pets now that they sleep on the bed and bask in the sunshine streaming through the window.

Well, I said I would show you Tuff's picture in this blog, but it will have to wait as this blog is getting too long. Next blog: what can you as a pet owner do if you find out your pet is chubby and needs to lose weight. Stay tuned.