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Paw-sitive Steps: A Journey to a Slimmer Pet



We get it. Our own pets are in need of shedding a few pounds. They ask so nicely for extra snacks and they’re so darned appreciative when we provide. Our pets are also a bit obnoxious if we don’t give in to their demands.


In a hurry? Skip to what I do for my pet.


Sadly, extra pounds aren’t any healthier for our pets than they are for us and increase the chances of diabetes, early onset arthritis, and certain types of cancers among other problems… like fitting into your high school prom outfit. In other words, it's a good idea to get back to a healthy weight!


What is a Calorie?


Before we talk about anything else, it’s important to understand the words we’re using. The fancy (and technically accurate) explanation of a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise 1 cubic centimeter (1 milliliter) of water 1 degree celsius. Since knowing that this is around 4.2 Joules of energy is about as useful as my insurance company in answering my questions, let me phrase this in a different way. It would take about 15 calories to light a 60 Watt light bulb for 1 second.


But there’s more… why does there always have to be more? Why can’t they just make this easy?


Anyway, the calories we have been reading about are little “c” calories. The calories in our food are Big “C” calories. Why the big C? It’s likely for marketing purposes and because really big numbers are harder to deal with. The big C means 1000 calories (and that would keep a 60 Watt light bulb on for just over a minute). Just to make things a bit more confusing, these big "C" calories are often written as Kcal (1000 little "c" calories) on pet food labels.

The next time you read a nutrition label, it will now hopefully make more sense why they always spell Calorie with a big “C” instead of spelling it calorie or use Kcal (which is the same thing as Calorie). So the 2000 Calorie diet so often talked about is really a 2,000,000 calories which is enough to keep that light bulb on for about 37 hours (no wonder the machines used us in the Matrix!).


The Truth (I’m sorry)


Despite the number of commercials, self-help books, seminars, and breatharians offering alternative explanations for extra pounds, there is only one way it happens: more Calories go in than out. Sure, there can be diseases and genetics that reduce the number of Calories we typically burn or increase the Calories we typically consume in a day, but there is still only one way to gain weight - more Calories go in than out. Seriously. That’s it. End of discussion.


So how do we lose weight? We decrease what’s going in and/or we increase what’s going out (preferably both). Again… seriously. That’s it. End of discussion. LAP-Bands, Wegovy,  and high fiber/low calorie foods reduce calories going in. Exercise increases calories going out. All apologies for being repetitive here BUT seriously. That’s it. End of discussion.


Think of it like a bucket with a hole in it that you’re filling with water. If water goes in faster than the water comes out of the hole, you’re going to need a bigger bucket to keep from spilling all over the place. Those Calories need to go somewhere (just like the water). Remember the first law of thermodynamics? Of course you do (🤷‍♂️)! You can’t create or destroy energy, you can just transform it into something else. In the case of excess Calories, that something else is fat. Seriously. That’s it. You know the rest.


So What do I Do for My Pet?


Diet (what they eat):

Try a senior diet. Any commercial dog or cat food brand will do. Avoid the grain free stuff for dogs though... that can cause heart problems in some dogs. So why do they call it “Senior” dog food? Because pets, like people, tend to slow down in their old age, fewer calories go out. Senior diets take care of this by having higher fiber (that makes your pet feel full for longer) and lower Calories.  Sure, they will likely have bigger poops but the health benefits outweigh this inconvenience.


Try swapping out the Snausages for some baby carrots. They’re tasty, they’re crunchy, they’re high fiber, and they’re good for you (and your pet)!


Portion Control (how much they eat):

There’s a very good chance your pet is smaller than you. Most people are quite amazed by how few Calories a pet needs in a day to maintain a healthy weight. While the quick and easy (but not totally accurate) formula we use to calculate a pet’s caloric needs is body weight (in kilograms) x 30 + 70, this formula is for an active, athletic pet. The formulas don’t want to risk starving your pet and the pet foods want to sell you more pet food so they overestimate the Calories they say you should feed your pet. But it’s at least a starting point.


For weight loss in your pet, start with about 3/4 of whatever the pet food says you should feed your pet. But weigh your pet every few weeks to make sure they are not losing too much weight too quickly! This is especially important in cats as prolonged Calorie restriction can lead to a life threatening liver problem that is very expensive to treat. If you feel like getting really fancy, get a Whisker Litter Robot. Cats are built to be strict meat eaters (obligate carnivores) with several, small meals a day (the carrot thing and extreme dieting really don’t work for them).


One final note: if the pet food you bought doesn’t tell you how much to feed your pet, it will tell you the Kcal per cup or can. A Kcal is 1000 calories (in other words, 1 Calorie with a big “C”). The pet food is always going to recommend overfeeding an animal. As stated before, they don’t want to risk starving a pet and they want to sell more food. So to calculate how much to feed you pet:

1) Figure out how much your pet weighs

2) If you weighed your pet in pounds, divide the number by 2.2 to get kilograms

3) Multiply that answer by 30

4) Add 70

5) Multiply that answer by 0.75 (weight loss starting point for Calories per day)

6) Divide that answer by the Kcal (Calorie with a big “C”) per cup or can listed on the pet food

7) The answer is usually how many cups or cans you should feed in a day (NOT per feeding)


Why did we go through all of that? If you switch pet foods, don’t keep feeding the same amount without doing the calculation again. Eating a pound of carrots and a pound of cheese cake is not the same thing! You also get a real number (of cups or cans per day) of generally how much your pet should be eating. It’s likely going to be less than what you’ve been trying.


Weigh your Pet:

If they are small enough for you to lift but bigger than a four slice toaster, you can use your typical bathroom scale. Weigh yourself first. Pick your pet up next. Weigh yourself while holding your pet. Then subtract your weight from your combined weight to get your pet’s weight. You can also substitute yourself for a pet carrier if you’d like in this scenario.


If they are smaller than a four slice toaster, get a baby scale and put your pet on it (maybe in a carrier if they won't stay still).


And if they are enormous, call a veterinarian near you to see if you can check weights on your pet. If they say, “No”, you probably don’t want to use them as a veterinarian for bigger things anyway.


In general, you don’t want your pet to lose more than about 1 to 2% of body weight per week. In other words, about 2 ounces for every 10 pounds per week (you metric people should be able to do this on your own).


Exercise:

It’s good for you too and will reduce the chance of cancer, heart attacks, and mental decline as you age. For dogs, this one is easy. Go on some longer walks. Start slow and work up from there. If it’s negative 40 out, take a cheat day. If it’s hot enough to cook an egg on the hood of your car, take another cheat day. Frost bite and heat stroke aren’t fun (or cheap to treat).


Cats are harder. Try putting the litter box and food as far apart as possible to make your cat do some walking. Laser pointers, feather wand toys, and active toddlers are good for encouraging extra exercise in cats. Some cats even like being on a harness for leash walks. I like the PetSafe Come with Me Kitty Harness the best. It's secure and tightens down when needed without choking the cat which makes it handy for getting your cat out of the way quickly when chased by an off leash dog. Don't believe me that this can work? Check out our cat on the Las Vegas strip!



The Moral of the Story


It took a while for your dog or cat to get pleasantly plump. It will take a while (maybe a long while) to get back to a healthy weight. Your pet is going to try and con you into giving up and feeding them as much as they want while watching Mike Tyson Mysteries all day long. Don’t believe them. They’re con artists. But do weigh them every few weeks to make sure you’re not overdoing it.


How do you know when you’ve achieved your goal? Follow this handy guide from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention:



And when your pet has reached your target weight (a 5), you can start adding a little more food back in. But please, check the weight periodically so your pet doesn’t get back into trouble with weight again.


In the end, it will lead to a longer, happier life with less arthritis, diabetes, and cancer for all!

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