Doctor, don’t tell me he’s fat!

Doctor, don’t tell me he’s fat!

In Canada, most people, dogs and cats are overweight. Focus on those extra pounds—their cause, effects and ways to shed them.

October 7, 2019

In my veterinary clinic, when I told Alfred Gingras (not his real name) that Charly had gained weight again, he burst out laughing. “Don’t tell me my dog’s fat! My doctor tells me the same thing all the time!”

You couldn’t ask for a more direct transition to the sensitive issue of obesity-related health risks for Charly. And the associated risks for Mr Gingras, himself.

We’re now well aware of the pathologies related to being overweight, which include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Skin disorders
  • Digestive disorders
  • Urinary disorders
  • Decreased immunity
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Mobility problems
  • Some cancers

It’s a long list and one that affects a lot of people. One thing’s for certain: these days doctors and veterinarians speak the same language when it comes to the urgency of taking action.

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, 63% of Canadian adults are either obese or overweight. According to the organization Pet Obesity Prevention, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are in the same situation. What’s more, it’s well established that obesity in animals and obesity in people are closely interrelated.

In a study published this fall in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, found that dogs whose owners are overweight have twice the risk of exceeding their healthy target weight.

These findings have heavy implications, especially when it’s been proven that obesity can trim 2 years off Charly’s life expectation and cut short Mr Gingras’ life by up to 10 years!

Fortunately, and to my great relief, Alfred Gingras is very receptive to recommendations to improve his companion animal’s health.

I can’t tell you the number of times that clients choose not to see the facts (“he’s just a little chubby …”) or the risks (“he only has one life to live …”). In these situations, people clearly don’t want to hear what I have to say, which puts an abrupt end to any suggestions on how to improve their pet’s health.

Mr Gingras, on the other hand, welcomed the discussion, and the options to improve Charly’s health, including:

  • Validating his target weight and setting attainable objectives
  • Regularly checking his weight on the scales
  • Reducing the quantity and improving the quality of his treats
  • Not giving him any table leftovers
  • Considering a weight-loss diet
  • Using a measuring cup to accurately measure portions
  • Increasing the frequency and duration of walks
  • Finding new, active recreational activities
  • Providing several smaller meals instead of 1 large meal
  • Informing friends and family that you’re trying to help your dog get into better shape
  • Being patient and not believing in miracle diets!

If Mr Gingras’ story makes you think of your own situation, trust your veterinarian and his or her team to guide you. Their intention is to support you, rather than judge you. Take the time to let them know about your misgivings and the difficulties you feel you must surmount.

We veterinarians sometimes express a lot of enthusiasm to convince a companion animal owner to help their animal lose weight. As a result, we may forget the pitfalls that can await them along the way.

The good news is that Mr Gingras, once he was persuaded of the importance of providing Charly with a healthier lifestyle, decided that he, too, needed to change his routines. He decided to join his dog along the path to better health—not by eating diet kibbles, but by cutting back on treats and, above all, getting more exercise.

Today, like millions of dogs who get their daily walk, Charly is an active participant in his master’s weight maintenance program.

And so, the pendulum swings back. Or should we say that the scales tip in the right direction?

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