The Calculus of Weight Control

The math of weight loss isn’t difficult, but changing your habits can be. Take a critical look at the naughty bits your pet is currently eating. People food is densely packed with calories and fat and can irritate the pancreas in a dangerous way. Treats are also a naughty bit, even if they are made specifically for the dog or cat. Treats should never provide more than ten percent of the calorie intake for the day. But—I said no math, so let’s just restrict the treats to twice a day. If you are fully committed to your plan, we can make it work with two small treats a day. Same amount of treats every day, now. Don’t let that number edge any higher. And keep them under lock and key if you have a “diet saboteur” living under your roof.

You can start a weight loss program for any pet by measuring how much he is currently eating per day. It’s too much, so subtract one fourth of it. That was the math… did you miss it? You must accurately measure the food you are offering every single day. That is non-negotiable. Now start weighing your pet every week. If no progress is made in the first month, try cutting back the original meal by one third instead of one fourth. If you have to cut back more than half of your pet’s original meal to make any headway at all, you may need to buy a food that is specially formulated for this purpose. Don’t just buy one at the grocery store. OTC “weight control” foods tend to cut the calories by adding filler. That’s something you could do at home by throwing a stalk of celery in the bowl. If you actually need a special bag of food for this, check with your vet to be sure your dollars are well spent.

Some pets will lose weight for a while and then stall. If that happens, look at the meal you were feeding when he stopped losing weight. If he is still too heavy, subtract a fourth of it again. If nothing seems to work, consult with your vet. There are a couple of health conditions that will throw a wrench in even the best weight loss program. Those conditions only affect a tiny percentage of overweight cats and dogs, but yours could be one of them.

When you think you might be close to your goal, check with the doctor. If you’ve made steady progress over the last few months, you’ll see some raised eyebrows and pleased smiles on the faces of your health care team. If it’s genuinely time to stop the shrinking and stabilize your pet’s weight, they’ll let you know.

See? Just a tiny bit of math and a long course of patience is all you need for a successful weight loss program. And a pair of handcuffs for that family member who keeps sneaking food to your pet on the sly.

Dr. M. S. Regan