Preventing Obesity: Start With Your Puppy

Updated: July 03, 2014
Published: December 16, 2011
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I have a problem with roly-poly puppies. Of course, puppies shouldn’t be "lean, mean, fighting machines," but when a puppy crosses the line from normal "baby fat" to just plain fat, I find it concerning.

More and more research is beginning to show that once fat is laid down in the human body, it alters an individual’s metabolism for the long run and makes it extremely difficult to achieve lasting weight-loss. Below is a quote from Losing Weight: A Battle Against Fat And Biology, by Patti Neighmond, that I heard on NPR a few weeks back:

When you begin to lose pounds, levels of the hormone leptin, which is produced by fat cells, begin to drop. That sends a message to the brain that the body's "fat storage" is shrinking. The brain perceives starvation is on the way and, in response, sends out messages to conserve energy and preserve calories. So, metabolism drops.

And then other brain signals tell the body it's "hungry," and it sends out hormones to stimulate the appetite. The combination of lowered metabolism and stimulated appetite equals a "double whammy," says Ryan (Dr. Donna Ryan, associate director for clinical research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La). And that means the person who's lost weight can't consume as much food as the person who hasn't lost weight.

For example, if you weigh 230 pounds and lose 30 pounds, you cannot eat as much as an individual who has always weighed 200 pounds. You basically have a "caloric handicap," says Ryan. And depending on how much weight people lose, they may face a 300-, 400- or even 500-calorie a day handicap, meaning you have to consume that many fewer calories a day in order to maintain your weight loss.

Although this and some of the other research I’ve seen is about humans, I’d be willing to bet that the same rules apply to our canine and feline friends. There are two key learnings from this report that can be applied to our pets:

  1. Do not let your pets get fat in the first place. Starting in puppyhood, and continuing throughout their lives, limit treats, table scraps and any other "extras" to only 10 percent of your dogs' total caloric intake. The rest of their diet should consist of a well-balanced food made from healthy ingredients that takes care of all of their nutritional needs. Feed only the amount of food necessary to maintain a lean body condition and make sure your dogs are getting plenty of exercise.

  3. If your pet is overweight, think of it as a chronic medical condition and not something that can be fixed with a short-term diet. Once you get him/her back to a healthy weight, you cannot go back to your old ways of feeding. Continue to limit the "extras" and focus on the quality as well as the quantity of the food that you are offering your dog. Since your dog will need to "watch the calories" for the rest of his/her life, make sure that the calories he/she does take in are not empty. Foods made from high-quality sources of protein, carbohydrates, fats/oils, vitamins and minerals are essential to healthy weight-maintenance and will ensure that your dog is getting all the nutrients needed.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: WilleeCole / via Shutterstock