Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
I think that most of my readers know by now that one of my favorite topics is pet weight loss. ONCE a year I get to roll this into a topic that people care more about, which is their own weight-loss resolutions. While human weight loss isn’t really something I care strongly about, I do know that when people become more fitness oriented their dogs benefit. That is something I do care strongly about.
Excess fat has a lot of negative effects on pets. I will talk about some of them in detail next week, but pets that are maintained at a lean body weight live 25 percent longer. For our average pet, that is about three years. What would you give to have your pet for an additional three years? Would you give 30-60 minutes a day? I know that I would give about anything. There are so many variables that cut our pet’s lives short, so I am surely going to control the few that I can.
So, you’ve made a resolution to lose weight, eat better or get in better shape for 2018. Maybe you want a swimsuit-ready body by summer, lower blood pressure, to drop a clothing size or increase your fitness level so you can live longer and see your kids get married or succeed in a job. Rest assured that is a common resolution. Unfortunately, it is also common to quit this resolution sometime between January 20th and February 1st. Eighty percent of resolutions fail by the end of February. How many of you have kept past resolutions into July? The truth is that weight loss resolutions are set up to fail. After a while, you just want to eat that junk food and lay on the couch. Pies are delicious! You worked a long day. It’s cold! So a week slides by, you’ll catch up. So a month slides by, and now what is even the point?
You may have a significant other, parent or pet who loves you no matter your size (as they darn well better.) So what does your pant size really matter? You may not NEED to run up three flights of stairs. That’s why they make elevators. Your dog or cat looks adorable the way they are, even if your vet said they need to lose some weight.
So, how do you keep your resolution past February, and why do I care if you do? The answer to both of these questions is….your pet. People who make a resolution with a buddy are more likely to stay accountable. Often, on days we can’t do things just for us, we can do them for someone else. When that someone else is your pet, I care. Success rates for goals that have a helping buddy are at least three times higher than those without. People are great, but you can always count on your pet to be up for the challenge.
Make a reasonable goal and match it with your goal for your pet. If you need help determining a health goal for your pet, your veterinarian will be glad to help you. Maybe you both need to lose 10 percent of your body weight. Maybe your dog needs to lose 10 pounds and you need to lose 50, or your cat needs to lose two and you need to lose 20. Pair these goals on paper so that you have a weekly or bi-weekly total. Maybe you will each cut your food, exercise 45 minutes a day, and aim to lose 2 percent of what you need to per week or two. Write down the amount you exercised your dog each day on the calendar, so that if you start skipping days, it screams at you from the wall (figuratively.)
Next week I will talk about the ways that excess weight affects your pet, so that can be a motivator for you. You will find as you start walk/run/play routines with your pets that their joy becomes its own reward. Pets who are leaner will start to run more, clean more (if they’re cats) and be happier. Most owners notice a behavior change for the better as pets start to lose weight, which is motivation in itself. Not to mention that they are so entertaining during exercise time. My cat chirps, runs and tail shakes when we play our nightly chase games. My dogs run and play and sniff with such exuberance that it is impossible for me not to smile. Even as I know our walk today will be arctic, I also know that my dogs will make me laugh.
Once you get into a routine of exercise, the chemicals that your brain releases become their own reward. This happens for us and our pets both. I find that having a reason to exercise is one of the only things that gets me out, but I am always happy it did. No matter how tired I am, I feel more energized after my walks. When I come home exhausted in the dark, my dogs are still bouncing up and down ready for their walk. Usually this is all the motivation that I need, but on very hard evenings, I think about increasing their lifespan and decreasing their disease chances. I have almost no motivation to walk myself on days that aren’t ideal, but I always, always have motivation for my pets.
So, for 2018, make your goals, align them with your pet’s goals, write it down and get started! If your pet has no weight to lose, simply get them on board for the fun and health reasons. Create a resolution with your pet as your accountability buddy, and get moving!