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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.

How My Personal Journey from Fat to Fit Applies to You and Your Pets

Last reviewed on November 11, 2015


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  5

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  • 03/07/2012 07:16am

    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 :-)

  • 03/19/2012 01:01am

    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

  • 03/19/2012 01:33am

    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.

  • 03/19/2012 03:22am

    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 11:18am

    "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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