Q: My veterinarian prescribed a weight loss diet for my obese Labrador mix, Gertie, but what I really need is motivation to feed the prescribed amount, stop giving her table scraps and start taking her for walks. How do I motivate myself to do what's right for Gertie when it's easier to give in to her big brown eyes?
A: It's all about tough love—the way we demonstrate our love for our pets even when it's hard on us. Start with this: When she begs for food, tell her you love her and kiss the tip of her nose instead of offering her a food treat.
Teach Gertie and yourself new habits. Be consistent: When you stop giving her table scraps, stop altogether. Don't give in on special occasions, or she'll continue to beg. If Gertie likes treats, give them after her daily walks. Offer her a couple of raw green beans, a baby carrot or another treat low in calories.
Consider the many benefits of helping Gertie lose weight, chief among them her longer life. Multiple studies show that dogs maintained at a healthy weight live longer than overweight and obese dogs—up to two years longer in one study of Labrador retrievers.
Normal-weight dogs also experience less pain and disease than overweight and obese dogs. For example, arthritis, intervertebral disc disease and pancreatitis are less prevalent in healthy-weight dogs.
Gertie's risk of cancer is also lower if you keep her weight within the normal range. Cancer is common in Labs and other large-breed dogs; overweight and obese dogs—more than half the dogs in the US—are at even higher risk simply because of their weight.
Finally, decide what motivational techniques work best for you. For example, if you weigh Gertie every few weeks, you can record her weights on a chart taped to your refrigerator door and reward yourself with a gold star each time she loses weight. Make the process fun, and I'm sure you'll be successful.
Editor’s Note: With 58 percent of cats classified as overweight, feline obesity is on the rise. These tips can help you exercise your cat, staving off obesity-related disease.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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