Weight Loss & Weight Control With A Natural Diet

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I have a a Shih Poo, female, born Aug 11th, 2007. Approx three years ago she was given prednisone for suspected environmental allergies. As it turns out she was allergic to chicken in the dog food. She put on weight almost immediately so I figured out the problem, changed her dog food, weaned her off the prednisone. The problem is that no matter how much exercise she gets, three-four walks daily she is still fat. I would call her obese according to the dog fat charts. Do you have any recommendations / suggestions as to how to get the weight off her?

Thank you
~ Helena

Dr Jeff Feinman

Dear Helena-

I’m so glad you asked, because promoting weight loss in some dogs can indeed be very challenging. It is achievable though. Keeping them lean is critical for their long term health and happiness. Obesity is associated with many health problems that decrease both length and quality of life. Excess fat and body weight predispose to Diabetes, other endocrine and metabolic problems, arthritis, trouble breathing, etc. Needless to say that any of these diseases can seriously decrease your pup’s quality and length of life.

Unfortunately, your corpulent canine companion has lots of company. Almost 50% of all pet dogs are now overweight. In fact, now when someone sees a lean dog they are prone to think s/he is too skinny. Research has shown time and again however that maintaining a lean body and calorie restriction, is actually beneficial for health and longevity. One recent study in Labrador retrievers found that the caloric restriction associated with weight loss prolonged life by a significant percent.

As you have witnessed first hand, weight gain during steroid treatment is not uncommon. It may result from excess caloric intake due to a voracious appetite secondary to steroid use, water retention, decreased activity and lower caloric expenditure, and/or a change in the body’s basic metabolic functioning. The most common and often overlooked metabolic change that can lead to obesity occurs after neutering and spaying. Unless calories are restricted or exercise increased, newly spayed and neutered pets are prone to gain weight and become obese. However. this probably does not apply in your dog’s case.

You mention that you have already increased her exercise. I wonder though if she would tolerate even more. Daily walks are great for promoting fitness in both of you, but there’s nothing like the vigorous play between a group of compatible dogs. If arranging doggy play dates is not likely, consider enrolling her in a few hours a week of “day care” where she can run and play for hours on end. Doing so can really help burn off the fat. If she is truly maxed out with her exercise, then it’s time to look long and hard at her diet. It may seem harsh, but you may need to further decrease her caloric intake.

In addition, it’s critical to look at the source of her calories. They are not all created equal. In my opinion, she should not be eating any dry dog food. If she is, please stop it today. By virtue of the process required to manufacture kibble, the vast majority of these foods contain a large percentage of carbohydrates. Even so-called “grain free” kibbles. Prove this to yourself by reading the ingredients on the bag. The carbohydrates and fillers in kibbles can promote weight gain and make weight loss even more difficult than it already is.

If you feed any of the high carbohydrate dry dog foods, replace it with meat. Ideally this would be fresh meat, but even processed canned, air-dried and freeze-dried meats will do. Many of my clients feed a variety of raw meats and most of these pets are lean (but not mean). Many have lost significant weight just by making this simple switch. One of my highly allergic, and not so active patients named Rambo (yes, that is his real name) lost ~30% of his body weight (and allergies) during treatment with homeopathy and diet change. As with any other big lifestyle or medical change, I advise doing so under the supervision of a veterinary homeopath.

If you are already feeding a meat-based diet doing and if she is getting the most exercise possible, then I’m afraid that you need to decrease the quantities of food. If she’s a food gobbler, slowing down her eating will help fill her up. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, there are food bowls that make it difficult for her to wolf the food down. There are bowls with obstructions in them, e.g protuberances, mazes, etc. If you are feeding any freeze-dried foods you can also put the pieces into a Buster Cube and make her really work for it.

The raw meaty bone diet is another great way to slow down her eating while decreasing her caloric intake and increase her mealtime satisfaction. This diet is also a wonderful way to increase the % of meat in her diet. Ideally remove the bone marrow which is mainly fat. The RMB diet is described in detail in the many works of veterinarian Tom Lonsdale. One beneficial effect of this type of feeding is a significant reduction in dental dis-ease and other mouth problems. But that’s another story…

Another method to decrease calories in her food is to add vegetables to her meals. Stick with the lower glycemic ones like broccoli, cauliflower and white kidney and green beans. There even is some evidence that these beans in can help promote weight loss. Decreasing her portion size, slowing down her eating and using veggies in her food are all useful weight loss strategies. There are also nutritional supplements like DHEA, 5-HTP, chromium picolinate and omega-3 fatty acids that may help promote weight loss.

However, even if her caloric intake has been *sufficiently* reduced and she is receiving *enough* exercise and nutritional supplementation she may still not lose weight. In this case, there is probably another cause for her obesity. This is especially true considering your pup’s three year history of weight problems and the connection of her weight gain to steroid use. The commonest causes for steroid-induced weight gain are too much food secondary to the voracious appetite which steroids can cause and retention of water. These are likely NOT the problem in your dog. I suspect that the steroids may have induced or hastened changes in your pup’s metabolism that are predisposing her to obesity.

So-called “Metabolic Syndrome” is well-recognized in horses and people. A similar dysfunction in metabolism was just recently documented in dogs. In this study over 20% of the obese dogs suffered from metabolic syndrome as revealed in this paper. Interestingly, the elevated blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure seen are very similar to those associated with steroid use. Not surprisingly, the earth shattering conclusion of this paper is that weight loss can help reverse these abnormalities. The question is of course, now what?

I strongly urge you to get some baseline senior (yes, she is now considered a senior by most conventional veterinarians) screening. The blood and urine testing may reveal internal symptoms that would have been otherwise missed and can facilitate weight loss when addressed. Senior screening of all pets, especially those predisposed to other physiologic abnormalities by obesity, is also important by providing baseline results for future comparisons. Solitary test results may be normal in many clinically healthy but obese pets. However, comparative evaluation of results from different years of screening can be very helpful, e.g trending her creatinine levels can reveal early kidney dis-ease. Routine screening also allows gross internal abnormalities to be ruled out. Suspicious levels of cholesterol, hematocrit, thyroid hormones, urine specific gravity, etc. suggest problems like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease that can predispose to obesity.

To the homeopath however, these diagnoses are merely labels that only partially describe the problem. That being said, even if she is not being treated homeopathically, some metabolic and endocrine abnormalities can be palliated with commonly prescribed drugs. Some of these can be dangerous however. For example, Lysodren is the most common drug used for Cushingoid dogs. This drug destroys the adrenal gland and *is a derivative of DDT*. For many of my patients I advise treating the underlying energetic imbalance that has led to these physiologic changes prior to starting drug therapy. There are many homeopathic medicines that are clinically useful for treating obesity. One repertory (an index to the literature in homeopathy) lists 201 associated with obesity.

Your vet homeopath can do a complete evaluation to best help your dog lose weight. A through history including review of her records, physical examination and baseline blood and urine testing will all be considered. Treatment will be individualized. It will include addressing lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Nutritional supplementation and the homeopathic medicine indicated by all these factors may be prescribed. The end result will be a happier and healthier dog who can live her extra years to the fullest.

Be well.

Dr. Jeff

5 minutes a day. Healthier Dog.

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