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Top Ten Excuses for a Fat Dog

March 20, 2011

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Doc Truli wants obese dogs to start loosing weight.  However, most people do not realize their dog is obese.  There are several excuses Doc hears every day:

Top Ten Excuses for a Fat Dog

  • He just won’t stop eating
  • He steals cat food
  • I can’t walk him, I have a ____ injury (knee, hip, double bypass, etc.)
  • I had no idea it was that bad
  • I hardly feed her anything!
  • Ever since the spay (5 years ago), she’s been fat
  • The dog lives with my _____ (grandfather, mother, kids) and they don’t take care of it
  • He’s always been like that
  • But I don’t feed table scraps!
  • Me, too

Boston Terrier Obesity

Let’s take Jimmy, the fat Boston Terrier in the pictures, as an example.  He’s super fat.  If he were a guy, he’d be 750 pounds on “The Biggest Loser.”  Jimmy does not go to the store, buy cheesey-poofs, or hang with friends and pig out at the local Carnival.  He doesn’t raid the refrigerator at night.  He’s not depressed about his failure to finish college.  He doesn’t care what his body looks like.  Jimmy’s path to obesity involved humans giving him too many calories, empty calories, and not enough opportunity for exercise.

Too Many Calories

Find Out How Many Kilocalories per Cup Your Dog’s Food Contains

Wide Calorie Range

Most commercially available dog foods are 210-550 kilocalories per level 8 ounce measuring cup.  Yes!  The range can be double!  A diet food from the vet’s office might be 210-260 kilocalories per cup.  A regular supermarket food is usually 300-425 or so.  Some of the holistic all-natural brands are up to 550 kilocalories per cup!

A Little Work to Figure Out

A few brands list the calories on the label.  Most do not.  Some list the calories on their website.  Most do not.  Every brand has a 1-800 information number on the bag.  Just cut-to-the-chase and call and ask, “how many kilocalories (pronounced Keel-oh) per cup does the food contain?”  That’s easiest!

Low-Calorie, Light, Less

These words have no legal definitions.  A light food from one brand might contain more calories than the regular food from a different brand.  Most companies follow a guideline where they mean that the “light” food is fewer calories per cup than their regular food.  Just call the 1-800 info number.  They’ll let you know “how many kilocalories per measuring cup?”

A light food from one brand might contain more calories than the regular food from a different brand!

High Calorie Treats

A small dog – like Jimmy should be – might need – let’s say – 30 kilocalories per kilogram of ideal dog weight per day.  If Jimmy weighs 30 pounds (15 kg) and he should weigh 15 lbs  (7.5kg), then he should shoot for about 225 – 300 kilocalories per day.  (Ish.  Every dog’s exercise and genetics are different.)  This is an estimate to give someone the idea that they might be feeding too many calories.

Estimating Caloric Needs

If your dog is bulging, like Jimmy, then he or she is probably eating double the calories needed per day.  Each time Doc Truli calculates for a pet, a pet as fat as Jimmy, visually, is 100% overfed on calories.  At least 100%, sometimes 200%!

Take whatever your dog eats and cal the companies, look on the bags, or look on the websites until you get calories per cup for each food, and # of calories on the treats.  Add them up!  If you get 600-800 calories for a terrier, don’t be ashamed!  Figure out how to cut out the empty calories first!  Just try that for a month.  Weight your pet weekly to chart your success.

If Jimmy eats average semi-moist style supermarket treats a day (I don’t want to name names & appear against any particular brands), most of them contain about 30 kilocalories per treat.  That’s 300 calories right there!  So even though the calculation is inexact, you can imagine and see on Jimmy’s body, where the empty calories are going.

Empty Calories

In the 1970’s, parents told kids not to eat too many empty calories.  Now it seems few people remember the concept.  An empty calorie is energy from food that is not paired with vitamins, minerals, or other micronutrients that you need to be healthy.  Some food consisting of empty calories actually leach nutrients back out of your body and your pets’ bodies.

Examples of empty calorie foods would be soda, fast food, most processed candies, flavored artificial products like drinks, most processed snacks like chips.  These items are not nourishing for the body.  They may feel like they nourish the emotions, but they incite an emotional rollercoaster that causes you to want to eat them again and again to smooth out your moods.  Believe it or not, this is an unnatural existence.  Nature is not so cruel as to want you to feel in desperate need of a chip or a soda!

Empty Calorie Dog and Cat Foods

What’s In Dog Treats?

Most cheap treats for pets are empty calories.  If you read the contents, or call the company and ask, you will fond a backbone of a fiber or starch with some corn syrup, flavor enhancers, smoke flavors, and preservative-type chemicals.

Ever Try a Dog Treat?

Pet foods legally have a lower standard of contamination that people food.  (Like more rat droppings per ton are allowed, etc), so I am not advocating eating pet food, but I can tell you, Doc Truli has eaten pet treats and pet food.  Some treats, like the sticks that resemble pepperoni sticks, smell fantastic.  If you are a carnivore at heart, they smell like succulent BBQ.  If you put a little piece on your tongue, that flavor that matches the wonderful smell, lasts a portion of a second.  The flavor goes out of those treats faster than the flavor leaves cheap gum.  Most dogs do not care.  They inhale those treats.

What’s to Like?

Imagine, 30 kilocalories, with flavor that last a split second, gets inhaled right into the belly and has no nutrition other than empty calories!  Why do we do this to our dogs?  Because they “like it?”  Do they like having arthritis and breathing problems?  Do you think they want to die at 10 years old instead of living 50% longer?  Just for a tasteless high-calorie treat?  Maybe everyone should taste their dog’s food and treats.  Then we would see who still thinks we are spoiling our pets.

No Exercise

Let’s be honest.  Our dogs need 20-40 minutes of heart-pounding exercise a day.  Ball chasing, doggy wrestling, running, swimming, actual exercise.  Very, very few dogs are lucky enough to get this kind of activity in their lives.  Very few people move this much in America today.

Dogs are Social, Territorial, Inquisitive Creatures

If your dog never leaves the house, shame on you!  Doc doesn’t care if your Chihuahua “doesn’t need” to go outside to use the toilet.  Outside is fun for normal dogs.  Unless your dog suffered head trauma or poisoning, or some other disastrous unique situation, your dog is basically normal.  Now, a pet will adapt to the circumstances you provide.  If your Boston Terrier has always lived inside and only gone out to the vet’s and maybe the groomer, then you cannot just start dragging him or her around the block on a leash.  It will not be pleasant for either of you, Doc Truli promises you that!

Start From Where You Are

Start with whatever activity you and your dog now share.  Commit to more physical activity.  Play games, interact, make rules and work tougher to invent fun times.  Dogs and cats understand the arbitrary and often cheating rules of made-up games the way human children do.  Your cat knows that’s your hand under the blanket!  Your Chihuahua knows a game is a game.  Make games up together.  Go with the flow.  Your cat or dog will surprise you with new variations on the game.  (My cat cheats at blanket-hand by trying to get under the covers and getting the hand directly, but not often.  Most of the time he preserves the illusion for the fun of the game.)

Take Your Dog Out

Try to get your dog outside.  Just the muscle tension and investigation that goes into sniffing things outside will help tone muscles and get the heart pumping.  Interest in the world beyond your family and want treats and goodies flow from the refrigerator is good mental health exercise.   If you commit to the concept of outdoor activity, you will find what works.  Try different times of day if the weather is not permitting.  Try different harnesses and even a dog stroller if you have to  – just to get outdoors and be healthier.  If you have a difficult dog and an interesting way you overcame his or her reluctance to go out, write to VirtuaVet and let everyone know about it!  We all could use more good ideas!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2012 1:52 pm

    Great article – here’s more info on fat dogs if you need it!

  2. April 5, 2011 1:34 am

    Hi Doc Truli,

    Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond. Combination of me being really busy and also this being such a complex issue. Frankly, this is the kind of issue people really get worked up about, and many become extremely adamant and rude. It’s like talking politics or religion. It feels treacherous!

    I’ll give it my best shot, because I know that you, at least, will deal with things in a thoughtful, respectful manner, and I’m certainly willing to learn. I have found it very frustrating, honestly, not to be able to find information on this topic that does not come from someone with an agenda. It seems like both sides have agendas that make it hard to know what to believe.

    Be that as it shouldn’t be, first, to Barnum. . . . Well, one good bit of news: It turns out that he’s actually pretty svelte! We gave him his spring haircut a couple of weeks ago, and he’s thinner than I thought; all that hair really makes him look and feel bulkier than he is. He is at a good weight and has maintained it.

    To clarify, his food isn’t all muscle meat. He gets about 10% bone, 10% organ (liver, kidney, etc.), as well as “organ meat” that’s sort of meat-like (lungs, tripe, eggs, etc.), and lately I have been giving him a small snack of cooked vegetable and grain every day, along with his salmon oil. And then he gets an occasional meal (maybe three times a week?) that’s a big hunk of meat.

    His treats are a mix of raw meat (probably 50% or more of his treats), and then cooked meat (like organic hot dogs), dairy (cheese or cottage cheese), and now a home-baked biscuit, called liver cake (liver, gluten-free flour, and eggs). He also gets a tiny bit of good-quality kibble as part of what goes into his Kongs, because I just haven’t been able to take kibble out of the picture 100%. It’s taking us a year to go through half a bag, though! I have to be careful not to give him too much bone or dairy (as his preferred treat to work for is cheese), or he develops UTIs from calcium oxalate crystals.

    A big factor for me is what Barnum likes and tolerates. He won’t eat grains or vegetables if there is meat given at the same time — he will just pick out the meat — and to make the grain and veg palatable, I mix it with fish oil and/or raw egg. Also, if I give him more than a little vegetable, he throws it up the next morning.

    The crux of the confusion, for me, is whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. I have sought out unbiased information and have not found it. I have read and heard a lot that is compelling on both sides.

    I always thought they were omnivores. Then various people, including some vets and people who study wolves, have come out saying no, biologically, they are carnivores. (One of my local vets gave a talk on this very subject a couple of years ago.)

    A lot of it seems to come down to how you think dogs came to be dogs, the evolution of dogs from wolves. I find the “wolves scavenging human garbage” theory pretty compelling, which would argue against a strict carnivore philosophy, and more of a “carnivore with omnivore tendencies” or an “omnivore-leaning carnivore” which is pretty much my working theory, now. What I’ve learned about the differences between dogs and wolves in behavior, and the genetic links between physiology and behavior, has also influenced my thinking that the matching DNA isn’t the whole story.

    However, I have flipped-flopped around a lot, and it’s taken me time to arrive at a diet for him that I think is healthy for him now, healthy for preventing future illness (like cancer), easy enough to manage that it doesn’t break me financially and/or consume my life, and that I can also use a lot of his diet for clicker-training. It’s a lot to balance.

    First he was on a good-quality kibble, which I was planning on weaning him off of to a homemade diet of mixed raw meat, grains, and veg. Then, I learned about the prey model (which doesn’t include grain or veg), and based on what I read, and my friends’ experiences, and Barnum’s own (very picky!) food preferences, I switched to that.

    Then we ran into the UTIs, and the difficulty of using that strict a diet for multiple, daily training sessions. So, I decided that I thought something a bit more balanced would probably be better for him and work better for me, and that’s where we are now.

    However, I still feel I’m doing a lot of informed guesswork. Whenever I read someone arguing that dogs should not have diets of raw meat (by which I mean meat, organ, and bone), they end up having some sort of conflict of interest or agenda — or even potential bias — that makes me question the purely scientific nature of the information. I understand that everyone has biases, but I would feel more trusting if people put their biases up front.

    For example, someone who seems credible on the topic writes a lengthy article about how raw, prey-model diet is bad and dangerous, and then it turns out they are on the board of a dog-food company. Or they sell a dog food. Even a veterinary nutritionist’s site left me disappointed because of this. She was presenting herself as an information source, purely, and then it turned out she sold her own brand of dog food, and then I had to wonder how much of the information was marketing.

    Another factor is that a lot of the time, when I read about what to feed our dogs, the decisions that go into what they are fed are not entirely about what’s best for the dog. For example, sometimes it’s about what’s cheaper or easier, and I get that — it’s a fact of life. But it should be acknowledged which stuff is what the dog absolutely needs, and which stuff is a way to save time or money. i.e., I believe using a lot of grain in dog food is a way to provide bulk and energy very cheaply.

    Even in homemade diets, it seems like grain is often used for its convenience and affordability for the owner. Of course, a diet needs to be doable. But there is one vet who advocates a homemade diet that relies heavily on cottage cheese or macaroni and cheese, and to me, a diet that’s so high in salt, relatively processed, and containing so little meat is not the ideal.

    Then, too, most of the prey-model, raw proponents are not making any money off of the issue, but they are intensely emotionally invested in it, and whatever question you ask, you get the same answer(s), and a lot of it comes down to, “Just shut up with your questions and do this for your dog, because it’s best for your dog, so if you don’t do this, you’re bad!” Not all raw proponents are like this, but the most vocal are, and it tends to shut down people’s willingness to ask other questions, openly.

    There’s also money to be made on the raw side, as some (certainly not all or even most) of the proponents naturally have gotten involved in providing meat.

    And even someone who has no overt biases, for example, a veterinarian who is not selling dog food in their office (which is rare), has still been influenced by going to vet school and training at hospitals that are funded and influenced by dog-food companies and what-not. This does not make them a shill or a dupe, but what you learn in school influences how you practice and what you believe, doesn’t it?

    So, I would *love* to get some scientifically/medically based information or opinions about what we know dogs need, nutritionally, and what they don’t. From someone who acknowledges their biases.

    All this being said, I think almost any homemade diet, be it raw or cooked, carnivorous or omnivorous, is much more likely to be healthy for the dog in the long run — assuming the owners know some basics, like to never feed cooked bones, grapes, onions, etc. — than a diet of exclusive kibble.

    I have tried to talk to various vets in person about this, and their opinions have been all over the map, often contradictory, so I have ended up doing as much research as I can, and then just trusting my instincts.

    All this being said (and I know it’s a VERY long comment), I would love it if you know a veterinary nutritionist who you think could address this issue and interview them. Or, I would love to interview them for my blog, because the issue of diet is coming up more and more in the working-dog world, including assistance dogs.

    I don’t think any one diet is the right diet for every person and dog, but I think right now the waters are very cloudy, and it’s hard to find information from someone who has nothing to sell (even, occasionally, just their reputation/dog-food religion). Information is power.

    • April 7, 2011 5:47 pm

      Wow Sharon! You were on a roll!

      First of all, I wish I had a pHd in nutrition so I would know all of the current research on canine physiology. I have taken to heart your suggestion to interview a nutritionist about the topic and then I can see if I can “navigate” through the spin or bias that may inadvertantly creep in.

      My belief is that dogs are omnivores. They certainly are not obligate carnivores like a cat! Their glucose metabolism, gluconeogenesis (energy storage in the liver), and even the insulin metabolism is much more like ours. Cats are carnivores and their biochemistry is different in many surprising ways. This thought that dogs are more like us led me to ponder the carnivorous humans out there. You know, the burger and chicken crowd who eat “meat and potatoes.” They really are not carnivores, and yet prefer their meat to their vegies, just as Barnum does. I suspect muscle meat triggers cravings and addictive behavior in people and dogs. (That would be an awesome question for an interview!)

      Many animals, birds, and people, too, will pick through their food and only eat their favorites. The traditional solution has been loafs or pellets to evenly distribute the ingredients and prevent this selection. Kind of like a smoothie or a vegie dip with the bee pollen and other ingredients mixed in!

      Thanks for the conversation, Sharon. I’m working on the nutrition interview idea. Great idea!
      As always,
      Your Doc Truli

  3. March 20, 2011 5:59 pm

    I’m finding it very difficult to keep Barnum’s weight consistent. He has never been very interested in food, which is a challenge, since food rewards are essential for serious clicker training.

    He is very good at self-moderating. When he was on kibble, he would ignore his food or only eat till he was full. When I started him on raw, if I gave a piece that was too big, he’d stop before finishing it. Yet, he still gets chunky if I don’t watch like a hawk!

    The great majority of his food is raw meat (which is usually what I use for training treats, too — cubes of beef heart — because that’s what he’ll work for), with occasional salmon oil, raw bones, raw organs, cooked grains, and cooked veg for meals or snacks. Sometimes I use organic cheddar cheese or chicken hot dogs for treats, when I don’t want to deal with raw meat.

    I only feed him an actual “meal,” about three times a week, which is mostly for his teeth (eating a hunk of raw meat and bone cleans teeth) and mental/physical health (good for jaws, enjoyment, etc.).

    I only feed him a meal when he seems ravenous. He’s eating, as near as I can figure, about 1/4 to 1/3 of what I was originally told a dog of his size should eat, on a raw diet. But even when he was a puppy on puppy kibble, he ate less than half of what the label said (about 1/3 of the instructed amount), and he’d chunk up.

    He is certainly not obese, but I feel up his ribs every day or two, and if he’s starting to chunk up, he doesn’t get a meal for a little longer than usual. So he swings back and forth between lean and slightly overweight.

    Raw meat digests much slower than cooked food, btw, so raw-fed dogs typically only eat once a day, and every-other-day is not unheard of. Also, he is getting training treats periodically, every day, so he is not going without any nutrition any day.

    The only thing I can think of is that it’s because there’s so much fat in the beef heart/cheese and/or he has a slow metabolism and/or he’s not getting enough exercise. (I KNOW he hasn’t been getting enough exercise because my powerchair that can handle snow has been broken; hoping it will be fixed tomorrow, finally! But this seemed to be true even when he was getting more exercise.)

    So, I don’t think that can account for all of it. I’m going to get him evaluated for thyroid, just in case, at his spring exam. Does anything else occur to you?

    • March 21, 2011 9:07 pm

      Dear Sharon,

      I am wondering about the wisdom of a mostly muscle meat diet for an omnivore, like a dog. I just visited Big Cat Rescueand they feed very little muscle meat and lots of a carnivore loaf mix that includes nutrients an animal would eat from the stomach and innards of a prey animal, like veggies and whole grains.

      I know a consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (link in right sidebar) would provide answers. I have not had a client consult on a dog raw diet yet, so I haven’t gotten the scoop on that.

      Barnum’s weight thing does not sound too unusual to me. Daily exercise, metabolic needs, weather, even variations on the quality of the foods you acquire for him could cause variation in his “pudge.” I like your system of feeling the padding over his ribs and adjusting his intake accordingly!

      Doc Truli


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