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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Now that the New Year’s Eve dust has settled, it’s time to officially set the tone for a positive 2012 by incorporating more exercise into your and your pet’s daily regimen (see Make 2012 Your Pet’s Best Ever, With Three Reasonable New Year’s Resolutions).

Some of you may think, "who has the time to exercise when our days are spent working and taking care of our families and pets?" Actually, we all have the same 24 hours each day to better our health. Unfortunately, "under-exercisers" don’t prioritize physical activity as highly as those of us who have experienced the life changing effects brought about by consistent exercise.

I live my life abiding by the holistic health principles of a whole food based diet, daily exercise, and elimination of known toxic substances. This message translates into my veterinary practice, as I strive to educate my clients on the benefits of creating wholesome diet and weight management strategies for their pets.

How severe is the obesity epidemic in our animal companions? An estimated 51 percent of dogs and cats (roughly 89 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Life altering afflictions that affect the cardiovascular (hypertension, etc.), immune (chronic inflammation and infection), and musculoskeletal (arthritis, traumatic injuries, etc.) systems are common sequelae of carrying excess weight.

The evolution of my commitment to fitness stems back to childhood. My "still-kicking" parents are my role models, as they regularly exercised and motivated my brother, sister and me to do the same. As a kid focused on playing with my Star Wars action figures, I was not always receptive to their seeming fitness fanaticism; I vividly recall my sister dragging me kicking and screaming during a one mile "fun run" when I was around six years old. Needless to say, I didn’t yet appreciate the healthful habits my parents were striving to instill in me.

Initially, their push to be active had the opposite effect, as I was a chunky child, into early adolescence, with moderate self-esteem. More choice childhood memories include the afternoons my mother and I spent shopping for husky-sized Toughskin corduroys in a variety of seasonally appropriate colors. I didn’t like the plus-size connotation, which gradually fostered the impetus for change.

Inside my slightly corpulent exterior was a fit person ready to emerge. I gravitated toward sports to which I felt a natural connection. Playing mid-field on my soccer team during intermediate school motivated me to get fitter, so I started running regularly in the mornings with my mother, shaped up, and performed better during games.

During non soccer season, I discovered tennis. I loved the individual nature of the sport and played competitively during my high school years. Upon moving to New Jersey during my junior year, I found myself giving into the Garden State’s tempting bagels slathered with cream cheese. I was still very active, but my bagel weight slowed me down on the court. I finally realized the effects diet had on my fitness level and ability to compete.

My burgeoning interest in animal rights and the inception of my plan to become a veterinarian motivated me to go lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Armed with a healthier (i.e., reduced bagel) diet and consistent runs or Nordic Track sessions, I quickly slimmed down.

The results were astounding; I felt physically better and experienced improved self esteem. I dedicated myself to staying fit and healthy regardless of my busy academic or work schedule, or the various challenges life presents. If extenuating circumstances interfere with exercise plans, I focus more highly on eating fresh produce and being observant of portion size. I don’t count calories or deprive myself of occasional treats (I love a glass of Resveratrol-rich red wine, as I am 50 percent French).

How does my journey apply to you and your pets? The principles are astoundingly similar and as practical for humans as for our canine or feline companions.

  • Dedicate time to exercise with your pet every day and make the subsequent day’s session unique and slightly more challenging. Wake up an hour earlier to complete your activity before the busy day gets in the way.
  • Reduce the portion size of your pet’s meals to decrease total daily calories consumed. Provide an appropriate volume of food divided into two or three feedings.
  • Incorporate moisture, fiber, and nutrient rich produce into every meal. Both dogs and cats can eat a variety of fruits and vegetables under the guidelines of your veterinarian.
  • Keep a mental or written record of your active versus less active days. Monitor progress by noting positive physical or behavioral changes in you and your pet at seven day intervals.

Prioritizing health and fitness every day will have innumerable long term benefits for all participating human and animal household members. If you are striving for a healthier lifestyle, make a sustainable plan and bring your pets along for the experience.

Cardiff and me hiking above Bob Hope's house in Palm Springs.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff and me hiking in Los Angeles' Runyon Canyon.

Comments  13

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  • Cardiff
    01/24/2012 06:11am

    No doubt the right diet and regular exercise has been instrumental in keeping Cardiff healthy despite his problems.

    And, of course, he is absolutely beaming with happiness because he enjoys the time with his dad.

  • 01/25/2012 03:16pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Cardiff has SO much fun on his hikes. I just do my best to keep him with me and away from unforeseen dangers (you never know when a rattlesnake or foxtail may be lurking).
    Regular exercise, when he is healthy, is definitely part of his overall wellness maintenance plan.
    I hope you are not suffering too much from winter's chill in Missouri!
    Dr PM

  • Prioritizing
    01/24/2012 10:51am

    It's all about prioritizing and scheduling. What's 5 minutes a day to grab a red laser to stimulate the cats and get them moving? NOTHING. That's easier than walking the dog. There's no excuse. I schedule my workouts on my calendar as appointment and work other requests around it.

    You know Dr. Mahaney, it would have been motivational to see your photo as chunky child to show before and after! You're an inspiration! Thank you.

  • 01/25/2012 03:18pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    You are exactly right about making fitness a priority. It is so easy to permit the responsibilities of the day to get in the way of making a choice to be healthier through exercise (and diet).
    Great suggestion regarding putting exercise on your schedule. I do that with yoga classes (gym or studio), as I then work the rest of my schedule around something that helps me physically and emotionally for that day (and into the next).
    I hope to see you back at petMD/The Daily Vet soon!
    Dr PM

  • 01/25/2012 07:58pm

    I second MiamiAngel's request for Before and After pictures!

  • 01/26/2012 05:47pm

    Fortunately, the photos of my larger days during my childhood and teenage years are in an location inaccessible to my immediate access and are in non-digital format.
    Perhaps I'll dig them up (they are at my parent's house in Mass), and scan them someday.
    Dr PM

  • 01/26/2012 08:08pm

    It's interesting, Dr. Mahaney, how your sister pushed you when you were young, and those habits, although forced helped you to develop a lifelong love of running/fitness ... good for you (and for your sister)!

    As caregivers for our pets, I think it is imperative to put all of their energy to good use - it can benefit us as well!! I use my dogs as an excuse to get out and exercise ... whether it be hitting balls to them in the backyard (or today, as it was raining, throwing them down the basement stairs), to getting out on a walk with them, they provide me with the opportunity to be active on a regular basis!

    Although, nothing beats a good run with my brother ... unforced of course!

  • 01/29/2012 10:50am

    Great suggestions about how the exercise we provide for our pets can have a positive behavioral outcome, both for them and for us.
    I know how much better I mentally and physically feel when I exercise. I similar results in my own dog, Cardiff, and my patients. One of my veterinary practice mottos is "a tired dog more likely to be a well behaved dog". I have seen this again and again in my years of practice.
    Oh, and thank you for dragging me along during that "fun run" in Bloomington, IN. It is one of the childhood memories that is most vivid for me, yet it is not necessarily the most pleasant. I look back on it now with amusement.
    Dr PM

  • 03/07/2012 02:16am

    As a fellow veterinarian I've become increasingly concerned about the obesity epidemic in our dogs. I have established a running coaching program for people and their dogs to help them both lose weight and get fitter. It works. You can grab the free program at www.poochto5k.com

    Dr AH :-)

  • 03/18/2012 09:01pm

    That's a clever idea to battle the emerging problem of pet obesity (as pertains to that of humans).
    What is your strategy for weight loss as pertains to foods for dogs? I am not a fan of prescription low fat/weight loss formulas and see many dogs do great on whole food, human grade, moist foods like Lucky Dog Cuisine (www.LuckyDogCuisine.com) or Honest Kitchen.
    Dr PM

  • 03/18/2012 09:33pm

    I'm not familiar with that food, it's not available here in Aus. I like the Leading Raw that is produced by the Guide Dog Association here, but the best weight loss I've seen in dogs has been with Hills Prescription R/D. I think the biggest issue with feeding dogs is the quantity that goes in their mouth, rather than the type of food.

  • 03/18/2012 11:22pm

    When it comes to weight loss, calorie control is certainly important.
    For long term health and weight management, the quality of the ingredients (human grade, whole food, etc) and lack of 'pet grade' ingredients (like in R/D, etc) is vitally important to pair with the volume of food.
    For a human comparison, one can lose weight by just eating "Lean Cuisine" packaged meals, yet the fundamental nutritional components of the food don't replace a fresh, comparable home prepared version that lacks preservatives, etc.
    Glad to see that you are promoting weight loss! Where are you in AUS?

  • 03/19/2012 07:18am

    "For a human comparison, one can lose weight by just eating "Lean Cuisine" packaged meals,"

    That holds true only if the "Lean Cuisine" is eaten in moderation. :-)

    The funniest quote I ever saw about prepackaged diet food was, "Take Two. They're small." That one really tickled me.

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