Walk a Hound Lose a Pound? That’s What Dr. Zeltzman’s New Book Recommends
It’s official. Now that Amazon is selling copies of his book, Walk a Hound Lose a Pound, Dr. Phil Zeltzman has officially joined the rarefied ranks of the veterinarian author. This time, on a subject near and dear to my heart: Canine weight management at the intersection of human and animal health.
Which is why I thought it’d be fun to ask this Fully Vetted BFF all the behind-the-scenes questions you might like the answers to. So you know, you can also sign up for his (free) weekly newsletter (available at drphilzeltzman.com). He also writes articles for a variety of publications (such as Compendium, which I profiled last Friday), and for a vet-only blog, too.
Dr. K: I'm sure you get this question a lot: What compelled you to write a book on this subject? I mean, veterinary surgeons aren't exactly known for their prowess with the pen (Dr. Nick Trout's notable exception notwithstanding), much less on a subject that's not wholly and completely steeped in the subject of surgery.
Dr. Z: What compelled me to write this book is that, quite simply, we describe an easy, simple, effective technique for weight loss at both ends of the leash. And if neither protagonist is overweight, it will help them stay fit and will dramatically improve the bond they share.
The beauty of walking a dog is that once you get into this new habit, your dog will be your best reminder to go for your daily walk. A dog is always ready to go, and will always be your greatest supporter.
I can’t really comment on other surgeons’ writing, but you clearly have never read my surgery reports. They are true works of art. They are sometimes gut-wrenching, sometimes nerve-racking, and they often come with a heavy dose of suspense.
Writing a book on canine weight management came out of frustration and out of passion. I have been increasingly frustrated by the number of patients I treat who probably would not have needed my services if they had had an ideal weight. The main example is ACL tears, one of the most common knee injuries.
This, ironically, slowly turned into a passion. I made it one of my goals to help clients help their dogs lose weight. Clearly, writing a book about the topic would reach a broader audience.
Most owners are aware that [being] overweight decreases their dog’s quality of life: they have a hard time getting around, they pant all the time, they get sore joints, etc. We also have had the confirmation recently that [being] overweight also decreases a dog’s quantity of life, AKA life span. Chubby labs live an average of 11 years. Not too bad. But thin labs an average of 13 years! And the only difference is their weight.
Years ago, I noticed that overweight canines often (not always) went along with overweight humans. I know, I know, it’s not very diplomatically correct, but this is a fact I keep observing and that has been confirmed in several studies. The reasons are very similar: too many calories and not enough exercise.
So the causes are similar, and logically the treatment is the same: fewer calories and more exercise.
I started thinking that it would be fantastic if we could find a way to exercise with our dogs, and encourage weight loss at both ends of the leash. Fortunately, the confirmation of my little theory recently came in the form of a bunch of studies that showed that when people and dogs exercise together, they can lose weight together.
I felt very comfortable writing the canine part, since I help patients lose weight almost daily. But I didn’t feel comfortable writing the "human" part. Granted, every other reality show host, every other socialite, every other actress believes it is appropriate for them to write about human medicine. I didn’t.
So I searched for a co-author. I’ll spare you the details. I am extremely lucky I found Rebecca Johnson, a human nurse who is one of the top experts in her field. She actually works at the Missouri vet school. She is invited all over the world to present her research. And she leads a pilot program called, believe it or not, "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound." She is the author of one of the now classic studies that show that dog walking can lead to weight loss for dogs and humans.
Dr. K: Do you find it hard to counsel owners on their pet's weight? What pitfalls do you encounter?
Dr. Z: I do find it difficult, but not because of people’s own weight struggles. My job is to be my patient’s best advocate, so I focus on that, while being very careful of not hurting the owner’s feeling.
My impression is this: the bigger problem is that many clients are in utter denial. Others don’t see their dog’s weight as a problem: they think it’s perfectly fine, or they think it’s cute.
Fortunately, many others do "get it." They believe me that all of this extra weight adds a lot of pressure to their dog’s aching joints, or that it will increase the risk of the ACL tearing in the other knee. And once they trust me and "get it," they follow my advice to switch to a weight loss diet.
Remember, my challenge is that most of my patients will need to lose weight despite the fact that they are locked up for a month or two after surgery. And I am always impressed when a client follows my advice and their dog loses weight despite the confinement. It’s clear evidence that the diet works!
Dr. K: Do you think it helps or hurts that you're slim and trim when you offer advice? Sometimes it seems as if my owners think I can't possibly empathize with their difficulty getting their dog to normal weight since I'm obviously not having that problem myself. Or am I just being paranoid? (OK, so don't answer that last bit.)
Dr. Z: How on earth do you know I’m slim and trim?
Anyway, here’s the harsh fact: As long as Fluffy doesn’t need to hunt to eat and survive, then we are the only ones filling up their bowls. Add to that a bunch of treats, and soon we have a whole lot of extra calories. So ultimately, we are responsible for our pets’ growing waist line. Of course, this is assuming there isn’t an underlying medical condition.
Again, once a pet owner comes out of denial and acknowledges this hard truth, then we can move on and discuss solutions to the problem.
So even though the initial conversation and the awareness might be difficult or diplomatically tricky, my favorite comment when clients come back with a thin pet is, "He acts like a puppy again!"
Dr. K: What do you hope dog owners will take away from this book?
Dr. Z: My hope is that dog lovers will make a conscious effort to assess whether their dogs are overweight or not. If they’re not sure, their vets will be happy to guide them. If their dogs are indeed overweight, then the book will give them some simple suggestions to help their dogs lose weight.
Not only will the walks help the owners’ health, they will deepen their relationship with their dogs. We included a number of testimonials in the book. Every time you read one of them, you can sense a very deep bond between the dog and the owner.
By the way, we also interviewed a number of specialists in internal medicine, nutrition, physical therapy, behavior, sports medicine, etc. This gives more credibility to the advice we share.
Dr. K: Was it stressful, and did it take you forever? And, part b) of this question: As a full-time veterinary surgeon, however did you find the time? (Of course I'm asking for selfish reasons since I'm finding it hard to find the time to get mine done, so I'm totally curious and totally jealous.)
Dr. Z: It’s kinda like deciding to walk your dog, every day, rain or shine. I made a commitment to write the book, so I worked on it a little bit every day. You know what they say about eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Actually, I don’t think anybody has even done it, but the saying is valid.
Writing the book wasn’t stressful. What was nerve-racking was, "Am I spending all this time writing a book nobody will ever read?"
Turns out that the response has been incredible. The feedback I have gotten from people who read it (sometimes complete strangers) has been very reassuring. The book definitely serves a need, and it’s starting to help dogs and humans alike.
Dr. K: OK, so where can my readers find your book?
Dr. Z: If your readers want the book at a nice discount, they can visit Amazon.com.
But here is a little tip: If your readers want the book at a nice discount and want to support a University, they can visit our publisher's site, Purdue University Press.
Type the secret pass code, "WALK 2011," and your readers can get a 20% discount.
I bought mine on Amazon, since I didn’t know about the discount. But then, I’m a Kindle reader so I got more than 20% off anyway.
How about you, do you walk your hound to lose a pound?
Dr. Patty Khuly