1. Why is it important for a pet parent to ensure that their fur baby maintain a healthy weight?
Maintaining a healthy weight factors in to so many facets of your dog’s life. One of the big risk factors of being overweight is an increased tendency to develop arthritis earlier and worse than average. It also predisposes your fur kid to diabetes and other diseases.
2. What factors contribute to canine obesity?
Two big ones are diet and exercise. Many dogs, now days, do not get enough exercise which is a big contributor to obesity. The other factor is diet. Sometimes just plain old overfeeding is the problem. Remember that food packages usually slightly overestimate the amount you should feed your pet. No matter how ethical the company, they are out to sell food, and they are also out to make your dog look good on their food (not a bad thing at all). Sometimes it’s less about how much and more about what kind. Dogs, like people, have a very easy time gaining weight when they are on high carbohydrate diets. My first dietary recommendation for generally healthy pets that are trying to lose weight is to cut out the carbs. This means a raw, canned, or home cooked diet as all dry food needs carbohydrates to act as a binder and make it kibble shaped. There are also uncontrollable factors like disease status and genetics, but I tend to focus on the factors that we can control.
3. What factors do you take into consideration in determining what the ideal weight for a particular dog should be?
I use body condition scoring on a 9 point scale. This looks less at the pounds registered on a scale and more at how the dog’s body looks. Do they have a visible waist? Can I feel the ribs or other bony prominences? For example, ribs should feel like your fingers on a closed fist. They should not be as prominent as your knuckles, nor as smooth and soft as the flesh on the back of the hand. Another system is illustrated below:
4. Are there commonly accepted standards with regard to weight?
Yes, there is a body condition score system that is accepted and widely used among veterinarians. When using this system, it is important to always specify the number over nine (ex. 4/9), as there is another system that is on a scale of five.
5. How would a pet parent determine that their dog may be overweight?
The chart below is very helpful. Ideally I like to see pets between 4 and 5.
6. What is the best way for a pet parent to help their overweight dog achieves the ideal weight?
The best way is to feed them with the right amount of nutritious food and to regularly exercise your dog. Regular exercise is good for the metabolism and also good for the mind. Exercise helps to decrease stress and increase mental stimulation which leads to happier fur kids. It’s also good for your waistline!
7. Do you generally recommend a particular type of diet for most dogs?
Yes, for the average young healthy dog I recommend raw or home cooked food. Make sure you are getting a “complete and balanced” diet so your fur kid gets the right amounts and right balance of nutrients, or use a supplement or combination of supplements designed to balance a home made diet. The next best option is high quality, meat based, grain free dehydrated raw food or canned food, and the least preferred choice is a high quality, grain free dry food.
8. What are the pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs?
The raw diet is very healthy, it is carbohydrate free and is designed after dogs’ ancestral diet. It is sometimes not appropriate for unwell patients, but average, healthy patients usually do extremely well on it. Because of the form of the diet, it usually has little to no filler ingredients, which is very beneficial. On the downside, it can be hard to digest, so sometimes it’s not the best option for dogs with sensitive guts. It is also labor intensive (if you make your own), and requires freezer storage which can be a logistical complication and is certainly a problem if you travel or camp a lot.
9. Should we feed our dogs the same food we eat?
I have some clients that do this. With the proper balancing supplements and attention to toxic foods (do not feed large amounts of onions or garlic, or any to smaller dogs; no grapes/raisins; no chocolate; etc.) this can be a really awesome way to bond with your pet.
10. Should we feed our dogs cat food (canned or dry)?
Generally speaking, no. Cat food is much richer than dog food and can cause digestive problems. I have had a few clients with picky or ill dogs use high quality cat food as an enticing topper to encourage their appetite and this is fine. Cat food is certainly not toxic to dogs, but it is richer and could lead to digestive upset or weight gain.
11. What should a pet parent look for when purchasing commercial dry or canned dog food?
I look for low or no carbohydrate foods that are meat based. I like moderate to high amounts of protein, and I prefer foods that are made relatively locally and certainly in North America/your same continent.
12. Do you have recommended diets for dogs who suffer from particular diseases such as diabetes, cardiac issues, food allergies or arthritis?
I do, these diets are prescription recipes that I use with my patients. They are like the prescription diets sold by conventional veterinarians, so they are only appropriate when prescribed by a vet.
13. Do you recommend nutritional supplements for our canine companions?
It depends. If you are feeding a high quality food to the average dog they may not be necessary, but I always like to supplement processed diets with small amounts of fresh cooked meats or veggies. If you are feeding a home made raw or cooked diet, supplements are usually essential in order to balance the food.
14. If you do recommend supplements, what types would you recommend?
For balancing, I like a supplement called Hillary’s Blend. For feeding in addition to an already balanced diet I like the Animal Essentials herbal multivitamin or other whole food supplements designed to be used with an already balanced diet.
15. Do you have any favorite recipes or food/snack preparation ideas for dogs that we can share with the Onpets community?
I do! My favorite two treat recipes are attached.
Dr. Erika Halle (previously Raines) obtained her D.V.M. degree from Oregon State University. She was certified in veterinary acupuncture, traditional Chinese veterinary food medicine, and Tui-na (Chinese medical massage) by the Chi Institute in Florida and certified in veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (veterinary chiropractics) by the Healing Oasis in Wisconsin. She is happy to be practicing veterinary medicine back in her childhood home of the Willamette Valley.
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