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Fido minus 5

(Courtesy of Ernie Ward)

When I embarked on my Me Minus 10 campaign, several people recommended I start walking my dog as a way to augment my physical activity routine. Turns out they were on to something. But walking the dog isn't just about me. Today's guest blogger, Dr. Ernie Ward, is founder and president of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and author of "Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter. A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives." In a blog entry he calls "Fido Minus Five," he explains that it's not just humans that need to lose weight.

Jennifer wants to lose 10 pounds before she turns 50 and is making a fuss about it. Good for her. For the past decade we've been assaulted with frightening facts about obesity, obesity-related diseases, obesity-related deaths, obesity-related everything.

While we were obsessing over our own obesity, man's best friend has been turning into man's best blimp. For the past three years our organization, The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), has been tracking the rate of super-sized pets. In 2009, our study estimated 45 percent of adult dogs and 58 percent of U.S. cats were too heavy. Worse yet, about 9 percent of dogs and 21 percent of cats were classified as clinically obese. That equals 89 million pets that need to join Jennifer in her fight to lose weight. How about "Us Minus Millions?"

It's not that every dog or cat is grossly obese. The problem is that even a few extra pounds produce enough harmful chemicals to damage your pet's health -- and you probably don't even notice it. For example, a 90-pound female Labrador retriever is equivalent to a 186-pound, 5-foot, 4-inch female, while a 12-pound Yorkshire terrier is similar to the same woman carrying 223 pounds. A 15-pound cat is equivalent to a 225-pound, 5-foot, 9-inch male and a 20-pound feline equals that man at 300 pounds. Each pound on a cat is equal to about 13 pounds on the average female and 15 pounds on a male.

So now for the question on everyone's mind: Why? The answer: It's complicated and easy at the same time.

First the easy part: Pet owners control the food.

Now for the complicated part: Pet owners control the food.

You see, we're to blame for this whole mess. We're to blame for our own sorry state of health and now we're happy to share it with our pet loved ones. It's easy to blame food producers, advertisers, breeders, heck, even former President Bush for our extra poundage. But last time I checked, not a single one of them has placed a fork in our mouth or poured food in that bowl. Nope, we've gotten ourselves into this predicament, and it's up to us to get out of it. We love sweet foods (and so do our dogs), and we love to reward ourselves (and our pets) with food at every opportunity (I walked a mile; I earned that muffin! You went to potty; here's a treat!).

That doesn't mean I don't blame producers for making incredibly unhealthful (yet tasty!) foods, advertisers for grossly misleading consumers ("Weight management?" Are you kidding me?), breeders for selecting risky traits (but they're so cute!) and the government for practically everything; it means I want us to first accept our role in the human and pet obesity epidemic.

What's a pet lover to do, then?

Step one: Calculate how many calories your pet needs each day. It's probably a lot less than you're currently feeding. Talk with your veterinarian or visit APOP's Web site to get started.

Step two: Trash your treats. Pet treats are so loaded with sugar and fat I call them "kibble crack." If the treat contains added sugar or fat or has more than 15 calories, give it to a shelter. Substitute with healthy alternatives such as baby carrots, ice, slices of apple or banana or better yet, a walk or playtime. Even a single, small dog bone treat given to a 10-pound dog is no different than a person eating two chocolate doughnuts. The truth is, we rarely stop at one dog treat. Give a few each day and you've fed the equivalent of a dozen doughnuts.

Step three: Walk daily. Nothing improves overall health more than aerobic activity. Start by doing both you and your pet a favor and go for a 15- to 30-minute brisk walk. Not a stop-and-smell-the-flowers walk but a break-into-a light-sweat walk. As a certified personal trainer and triathlon coach I can tell you it's really hard to exercise your way to weight loss. By watching (and restricting) your calories and increasing activity, you and your pet will be "minus" and healthier.

Step four: Take action. Currently pet food manufacturers aren't required to put calorie contents on ordinary pet food. Write to AAFCO and the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine and tell them I sent you. All we're asking is to be able to pick up a bag or can of pet food and easily determine how many calories are in it. Is that asking too much?

It's up to each one of us to achieve "Me minus 10" or "Fido minus 5." You have all the info; now go do it. All of us, both two and four-legged critters, will live longer, more active and pain-free
lives as a result.

Need more tips for getting your pet in shape? Join Dr. Ward for a chat on pet obesity today at 11 a.m. ET.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger , Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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WHAT a great article! Obesity strikes our best friends indeed! And here’s something I just learned. You know how the rawhide bones they love are so calorie laden and “what to do”? Well; fresh broccoli stalks make a great chew stick and my dogs love them. Cool, yes?
Kim Crawford,M.D./Anti-Aging Mind,Body,Skin Care

Posted by: doctorkim1 | April 13, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

The article glosses over a very basic point. As with humans it is a case of calories in versus calories out. And complete denial of things your pet needs is not necessary as long as you are responsible about it. My lab gets several chewy treats when I leave the house, a hold over from a bad case of separation anxiety she had as a puppy. She also has a food bowl on the floor (full) at all times and a basket of rawhides. Hates carrots, brocolli and any other healthy snack you can think of. And she is SKINNY. On a good day can probably be termed underweight. Why? Simple answer exercise. Rain, shine, snow we are out for at least two long walks a day and more on the weekend. She also spends plenty of time running after a frisbee, swimming or otherwise burning off calories. I have watched friends' dogs in the past who are seriously overweight, fed as recommended by the owners, given the treats in my normal way, and sent home dogs thinner than when they arrived. People need to remember when they adopt a dog that they need exercise and be prepared to provide it, not to just assume that a backyard provides all that they need. Couch potato dogs come from couch potato owners.

Posted by: McCarthy911 | April 13, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Dog treats -- Costco sells a big tub of treats that are nothing but chicken liver and vitamins. My dogs (who maintain their correct weight, tho they gain 3 lbs every winter and lose it every spring) prefer them to any of the fatty, sugary treats.

I've also noticed that my dogs enjoy the vegetable dishes I make for myself. So I make enough for all of us, and give them their share when I finish my dinner -- it also helps maintain my "alpha" status.

Posted by: westomoon | April 13, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

i have walked my golden forever. if fact we do half on the grass and on pavement. my dog has never had his nails cliped since the action of walking on hard surface has removed all the long bits on his nails. Ps we both need the walk.

Posted by: stuartcohen1 | April 13, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

There are plenty of fat dogs out there. No doubt about it. There are also a lot of dogs you can feel their ribs and who have the definition of a greyhound in the rear haunches. And their owners tell me that the vet says the dog needs to lose weight. I'm not talking a toy poodle where every ounce may count, I mean Golden Retrievers (the big red ones, not the yuppie blond ones), labs and the like. These dogs are perpetually hungry and desperate for food. It seems that for every fat dog, there is a vet or a know it all who thinks normal weight on a human is a fashion model and they then apply that standard to dogs.

But this is a nice article for people with obese animals. And the information on dog treats and calorie counts on labels is also informative.

Posted by: caribis | April 13, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

But what about Trotsky the Cat. He's fat and needs to lose weight.

Posted by: witchofwestghent | April 13, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Caribis: Did you mean an Irish Setter? I am not familiar with "red" golden retrievers.

Posted by: br55 | April 13, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I have been feeding my cat a high quality, high protein food for a year, and she has not seemed to shed any pounds. We do play most days, but it must not be enough. I think part of the problem is her spaying scar--she has an empty pocket that sags. I wish articles like this focused on cats more--dog owners have no excuse!

Posted by: 1shot | April 13, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I have been feeding my cat a high quality, high protein food for a year, and she has not seemed to shed any pounds. We do play most days, but it must not be enough. I think part of the problem is her spaying scar--she has an empty pocket that sags. I wish articles like this focused on cats more--dog owners have no excuse!

Posted by: 1shot | April 13, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

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