Weight Loss Coaching for Dogs

Published: May 31, 2013
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The veterinary publication Clinician’s Brief recently summarized some of the presentations given at the 12th Annual American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition (AAVN) Clinical Nutrition & Research Symposium held last year in New Orleans. I found the following fascinating and want to share it with you.

The Effect of Coaching on Weight Loss in Dogs: A Community Based Intervention Program

Canine weight loss programs in veterinary settings have demonstrated more success when there is significant guidance and coaching from veterinary staff. Because there are few, if any, published studies investigating canine weight loss — coaching programs outside the veterinary clinic, this study was performed in a community setting at a local park. A pet nutrition expert provided guidance and coaching to 23 moderately overweight dogs deemed healthy. Dogs were randomly separated into 2 groups: coaching (weekly contact and weigh-ins) and noncoaching ([every 2 week] weigh-ins with coach only). Both groups were provided feeding plans that included a weight-management diet, low-calorie treats, exercise protocols, a free off-leash pass at the park, and food and exercise diaries. During the 12-week program, 100% of dogs in the coaching group completed the study and 55% achieved success; 67% of dogs in the noncoaching group completed the study and 33% achieved success(success defined as 10% body-weight loss and/or decrease in body condition score by 1 on a 9-pointscale). The coaching group had a significantly higher mean overall weight loss compared with the noncoaching group, indicating that success is enhanced when coaching is involved and successful weight loss programs can be conducted outside the veterinary setting.

– Fernandes SL, Atkinson JL

Helping fat dogs lose weight is one of the most important things we can do to prevent and treat many diseases. Unfortunately, I have been underwhelmed by my ability to promote weight loss as a veterinarian. Sure, I’ve had some successes, but more often than not it seems like no matter what diet and exercise plan I prescribe, achieving meaningful, long lasting weight loss remains elusive. I wonder if my lack of results has something to do with attempting to keep the program convenient for owners. I generally have my overweight patients come in to the clinic only once a month for a weigh in and consultation with the proviso that weekly weight checks are the owner’s responsibility (either at home or using the clinic’s scale).

Perhaps the solution is to remove the clinic from the equation as much as possible. I envision an in-depth initial consultation, perhaps best held in the client’s home, during which time the veterinarian would perform a physical exam, get a starting weight, and come up with a feeding and exercise plan. After this, shorter, weekly meetings including a weigh-in and review of the feeding/exercise plan could be held anywhere that is convenient — at home, the local dog park, even during a break at work if your dog comes with you.

What do you think? Would you be willing to commit to (and pay for) such a schedule if you knew the chances of success were greater than they would be otherwise?

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Capsules: American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Clinical Nutrition & Research Symposium. Clinician’s Brief. p26. May 2013.

Image: Ksenia Raykova / via Shutterstock