Diet Fast or Diet Slow: Which Choice Is Better for Pets?

Ken Tudor, DVM
Published: June 21, 2012
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Opinions on dieting strategies are generally quite strong, with proponents on each side. Interestingly, scientific studies in humans and animals suggest that both strategies are equivalent and appropriate solutions to weight loss. However the weight regain in both strategies suggest that a long term solution is probably the best plan.

The Studies

Individual humans or animals put on moderate or severe calorie restricted diets lose predictable weight. Moderate dieters lose less weight than severe dieters. Both have weight regain after dieting but as a percentage their overall loss is still proportional and severe dieters maintain a much lower post diet weight than moderate dieters. In other words, the research suggests that one plan is not successfully superior to the other. Successful maintenance for both groups is dependent on strict adherence to a post diet eating or feeding regime. Consistent exercise seems a key element to weight maintenance in human studies, but the role of exercise in weight maintenance is less studied in pets.

How to Use the Information

Any weight loss program, if administered correctly, can be successful, with the degree of calorie restriction dictating the weight loss. This is important for animals that need immediate weight loss for medical or surgical reasons. Research confirms that the instant anti-inflammatory effects of diets are positive for the health of all dieters, slow or fast. Weight loss at any rate is positive for the dieter.

The Problem

The major problem for humans and animals is the assumption that after achieving target weight loss that calorie content of the diet can return to pre-diet levels. Metabolic efficiencies during dieting guarantee that fewer calories are needed post-dieting no matter how fast the weight loss. Dieters in any program can no longer eat the way they did pre-dieting, especially fast dieters. But remember, the word diet starts with the word DIE and that is the problem with short term weight loss no matter what the form. It taxes the body during the diet and programs failure after the diet. No wonder human weight loss programs have life-long customers. Serial dieters are destined to end life overweight

The Solution

As we have discussed in previous blogs, a long term commitment to a healthy lifestyle that includes a moderate diet with no high calorie treats with daily exercise is preferable to any dieting program. Unfortunately, this is not achievable for most pet owners given their work schedules, time commitment to child activities, or their own sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles.

Michelle Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg may have controversial ideas for promoting the health of Americans, but the message is not wrong. We make poor food choices and we have become lazy, inactive and full of excuses, so our health and the health of our pets are suffering. Studies confirm that pet weight is closely correlated with owner attitudes about weight, treat content, and the lack of knowledge about fundamental nutritional concepts.

Despite a devotion to helping owners with their overweight pets, I can honestly say that dieting is not the answer. Nutritional and lifestyle awareness are the answer. Unfortunately this takes time, effort and understanding that few are willing to undertake. There are no magical diets or fixes. Health is a marathon, not a sprint. Put harshly (and I include myself), we all need to put down the feed bag and step away from the table, embrace activity, and take our pet friends for a brisk walk or schedule a spirited bout of tether-feather or laser-light chase on a daily basis.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: mariait / via Shutterstock